Agropraxis Farm

  (Scotts, Michigan)
A Ultra-Low Carbon input farm using Eco-Bio methods.
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Holiday Lull

The Holidays, snow accumulation and time with family makes this a wonderful time of the year. Everyone at our house is either on break or taking advantage of the season to do a lot less of the everyday and a lot more of the fun holiday things. The farmer in me feels like all of this free time should be put to good use. Of course there is just about nothing to do that wouldn’t be better done at another time. So I catch up on sports, read last summers’ magazines, and waste time on the computer.  

The garden plan is all set, seeds are ordered, and CSA info prepped. Not a lot to bother with. During years past I made efforts to read books on relevant topics during this lull in the season. I ordered many through Inter-Library loan and read them and made notes. I re-read important works by Coleman, Rodale,..etc.to expand understanding. I went to the Conferences to exchange ideas and make contacts. Over time I developed a set of questions that I worked on answering and I realized that so many of them were not addressed by books or conference discussions. 

The questions had little to do with the science of farming (agriculture) and more to do with what I call the managing variables part of farming (art). All plants need a set of basic factors to produce a crop; water, CO2, sunlight, nutrients,…The scientist will indicate so much water, and so much N-P-K and blah, blah , blah….This farmer knows that you can put all of these things together and still end up with a poor crop. What factors contribute to a fantastic crop?  What can I do to make a good crop a great crop? How do I duplicate lasts years exceptional root crops with this years’  conditions? Over the years you build a base of information.  A crop may be spectacular and you wonder which variable or what combination of variables allowed the crop to push the limits of genetic potential?  Which planting method with these conditions will favor the crop best? I know a few vegetable farmers that concern themselves with gross yield. So their questions are always about what inputs will give the greatest yield. I ask how will these methods impact product  quality? Which cultivation methods favor plant growth? Is saved seed from healthy mature plants more vigorous than purchased seed?  I have 4 hours of time and how do I use it to best impact the farm? Will the field composting of year old manures be a better net return than windrowing and turning? The questions keep accumulating and getting partially answered. It seems the answers are a bit more complex than I often imagine. Which of course makes sense, I’m dealing with a complex natural system that we only understand in a general manner. 

I’ve been reading some thought provoking works not necessarily farm related. One is the following by Charles Eisenstein,  http://sacred-economics.com/  His work on scarcity and money are very relevant and thought provoking. There is plenty that applies to farming in this work! I also enjoyed The Rise of Rome by Everitt. Before long the season will turn and I’ll be in the field. Looking to answer more questions.
Farmer Pete

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Late Fall Harvest

On Friday I left school and headed to the farm for a late fall harvest.  For the last several years I’ve kept busy during the slower season by working as a Substitute Teacher. Being a Sub isn’t quite the same as being a full-time teacher. It’s a fill-in role that has fewer responsibilities than teachers have. Being with the young people that are part of our communities and around teachers has been a great experience. It has built a sense of hope that an honored form of continuity is being instilled for the future. 

Harvest was better than I would normally do this time of year. There was plenty of Kale and Brussels Sprouts and a few root vegetables, but also nice Broccoli, Collards, Cilantro, Purple Pac Choi, Cabbages, and Leeks. I arrived in the field with almost an hour and a half of daylight and left with the sun having set and a beautiful sunset waning to twilight. The day had been mild, in the upper 40’s with light winds, so I worked in comfort.  

A Harvest this close to the Winter Solstice has never been so nice. Certainly the mild fall has contributed with no lows below 20 degrees and no extended cold spells. Precipitation has been sparse but enough for healthy plants. It seems almost like a bonus to have a harvest like this shortly before the holidays. I only slipped on gloves in the last half hour because it was warm enough to do without till then. 

After a good day in school and a nice harvest I heard the news of the day. DEVASTATING! I have few words….  As a parent…as a Sub in my local schools…

Later that evening my daughter asked when would our pizza be out of the oven? She was hungry, really hungry!  All I could say was that I was sorry that dinner was late, I was upset about all the kids being killed…

Farmer Pete. 


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Harmony Acres CSA

Farming at Tillers International has worked out wonderfully. As I plan for the 2013 season I’m thrilled to offer  CSA. Below is some information from our CSA brochure and about what we plan for the coming season. If you have interest in becoming a member/shareholder contact me or leave a comment (email me, agropraxisfarm at gmail dot com).

 

When thinking of a CSA  name I had several things in mind. First I wanted to keep the farm and the CSA distinct. Many farms brand themselves and want to keep their marketing uniform. This CSA will be more than the typical marketing of produce that CSA seems to have become. Secondly, our relationship with Tillers International is important. Their mission to teach and support sustainable communities that teach low capital technologies is in harmony with our efforts. And lastly, our unbending recognition of nature as mentor. Being in tune with the forces and principles that guide all life is fundamental.  So names were proposed and altered or dropped. Finally, in a discussion at Market a good customer used the word “Harmony”. I don’t remember the context but the word suddenly took meaning. I really like all of the positive images that the name conjures and we adopted the name, Harmony Acres CSA. 

 

From the CSA brochure:  “Harmony Acres CSA(HACSA) was started by the Agropraxis Farm and its organic farmer Pete Robertson. The concept of CSA is to create a Community that supports the farm and benefits from a close relationship. Many CSA’s have been started by farmers as part of a marketing plan, or by organizations that seek to benefit financially from starting CSA. HACSA will be established as a “True CSA” that involves its members in decision making, work and benefits of the farm. A Core Group of members will direct HACSA and provide the foundation for development and direction of the CSA. 

 

Agropraxis Farm is a continuing organic farm operation that located to Tillers International  in 2012. Pete Robertson began growing for market in 2006 using over 25 years of organic gardening knowledge. With CSA experience that includes producing for a 100 member SW Michigan  CSA this farm is being developed to support a growing community of consumers that value a direct relationship with a farm. “

 

And also:
 “Reasons to Join:
-Receive more fresh produce for your dollar
-No middleman/brokers
-Dollars go directly to the farmers
-The freshest possible food weekly
-Fewer trips to the store
-Wider selection of local produce
-No residual chemicals on food
-Organic food with high nutrient density
-Connection to the growing local foods movement
-Share info, recipes, tips
-Weekly newsletter (With share)
-Access to your local farm!
-Low carbon input farming!
-Special events, dinners, day on the farm
-Volunteer opportunities
-Support for those maintaining our farm traditions
-Keeping your dollars local!
-Education of future food producers
-Farm to table in under 6 hours!

-Varieties that show the broad scope of foods available outside of regular food channels

 

Farmer Pete

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Fall and the Nature of Farming

On the farm the late fall crops are doing well. A great harvest of leeks, Brussels sprouts, rutabegas, radicchio, broccoli, and kale was done. I also I harvested a nice crop of collards. Maybe it’s a Michigan thing (or a white, Michigan thing), but collards are not real common here. This was a demo crop and I honestly had never eaten them or grown them before. I never had a CSA member ask for them or had someone at market inquire. But, they seem to be really popular in some regions and referred to favorably in cooking magazines. So they went in. They were largely neglected through the summer. Some were taken to market but drew little interest. They looked super the other week so I harvested and cooked them for my first try…and was blown away! So that’s what I’ve been missing! What flavor and texture. Even the picky-eater in the house took seconds. So simple and so good! They earned a spot on the farm for the coming years. We’ll  have Kale and collards for late greens from now on. 

I took time to read a farming magazine and ran across an appropriate description of what it’s like to farm compared to typical businesses.  “…the difference in magnitude and importance of the problems between managing  a business unit versus managing a farm….It sort of puts those petty office problems into perspective. On a farm if you miss something, you miss it for a year….In business if you miss a deadline or something doesn’t work out right…it’s so easy to correct…and go on....with farming you’re so much more aware of what’s not in your control; whereas in business you get this warped sense of it’s all in my control…In farming you do have some influence, but so much of it is nature.” (Acres USA, Dec 2012 Womack pg. 55…)

The lack of understanding of the challenges that farmers face gets a broad range of responses. Customers don’t lose any money when a celery crop fails due to unfavorable hot, droughty conditions. They buy conventional celery with its inferior taste.  Early beets may be killed by a late hard freeze and hours of work go unrewarded. Working with nature is a humbling and unpredictable experience. As the article detailed, it has a magnitude associated with its problems that few appreciate. 

One farming job I had was a nightmare.  A “plan” was created and a farmer hired to implement the plan (me). The plan was grossly unrealistic but being a farmer and hoping that the plan makers understood a little about the difficulty of farming to a rigid plan, I took the risk of trying to fulfill the plan. In an ideal situation the plan might have had a chance. With a challenging weather year and personnel scenario the problems were insurmountable and the plan was unachievable. The business decided to try another farmer (only to experience the same outcome) and is again looking for another farmer to assume the risk. The article brought to mind the differences and failings of thinking and working with nature as though it fit into a plan. The mentality of a farmer is to keep planting and working so that short term problems are minimized and long term benefits of the work are realized. Having to work to a plan is loaded with stress and quickly results in insurmountable animosity. Only a farmer seems to sense the difficulties or understand the problems and their magnitude.
Farmer Pete

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