Agropraxis Farm

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

Less than a handful of weeks remain of this winter. As with all winters we look for signs in the patterns in weather and life for what the future may hold; drawing simple conclusions from the complexities of life and events.  Some of these are worth sharing.

 

The land surrounding our home is dominated by conventional farmland. Our soils are light sandy loams that erode easily. When we have winds and heavy rains the evidence of catastrophic soil loss is easy to see. For decades the government encouraged farmers to conserve the soil with windbreaks, spring field work so litter/debris partially protected soil, and cover cropping in the 7 months of the year when the land was not tilled. These intuitive and cost saving efforts have been countermanded by bigger and bigger fields under irrigation pivots.  A few weeks ago we had 3+ inches of rain in a day. The gullies deepened and the roads were flooded as the light soils were relocated where the rainwater flowed.  Evidence was left in muddy deposits across the roadways and ditches filled. Tire swallowing gullies opened across fields. And still the land stays bare and tree lines are bulldozed for the favored big tillage fields.

 

Further evidence of soil loss was observed while shoveling snow following storm “Q”. We had just a few inches that covered the barren land. The snow came with a big blow that made the house shake and the dog to howl at odd times.  The snow was more tan colored with the abundance of airborne soil than pure white.  So much in the air that the wet snow brought it down.  Rather unusual in the winter time but what is usual anymore…

 

The following quote is from an article about the record breaking yields that small farmers are achieving with the most advanced growing techniques for cereal grains:

“(SRI)is good for small farmers who rely on their own families for labour, but not necessarily for larger operations. Rather than any magical theory, it is good husbandry, skill and attention which results in the super yields.”         http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2013/feb/16/india-rice-farmers-revolution?CMP=twt_gu

More info:

http://grist.org/food/miracle-grow-indian-farmers-smash-crop-yield-records-without-gmos/?utm_campaign=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter

These articles highlight that small, intensive farms have superior yields and are sustainable. It’s interesting that the few criticisms that emerge are about the inability for large farming operations to scale up this model to mega farm size. To some of us it is clear that big is the problem, not the method.

 

Farmer Pete

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Knowing Farmers

How does a poignant moment between a horse breeder and trainer with one of his livestock in a beer commercial turn into a comment on farmers?  Some of the resulting generalizations bring to mind the gulf of understanding between food producers and consumers.  There are as many variations in farmers and what they produce as there are in people in any society. A farmer I know loves to talk about chemicals, seed genetics, and equipment. I on the other hand find heirlooms, biological synergy and sustainability more interesting (We talk about basketball). The value of a farmer is in what he contributes to his community. This must be what all the attention is indicating. We revere those who work so we may live and enjoy life. 

The generalizations that group all farmers together has me reluctant to identify with them. Maybe an example from the other day will show why. I was at the township office dropping off a tax payment. A grain farmer was bending the ear of the treasurer about his ag well. It had tested with heavy metals. A few old dumps had taken industrial waste and polluted select local groundwater.  The farmer was trying to explain that it was okay to pump this well since the metals wouldn’t end up in the corn he sold. Of course I was aghast that anyone would try to justify using polluted water for irrigation. The contamination of the soil, runoff and subsequent crops is likely illegal. The mentality of many conventional farmers of squeezing money out of land regardless of impact is offensive. 

On another occasion I set up a table at a health fair.  I went around to the other vendors and introduced myself and the CSA I was promoting. One person from a dentist office was pleasantly offensive. She said she was raised on a farm and knew all about it. Went on to explain that her father worked the winter in Brazil raising seed corn and the summers here doing the same.  I asked if she ate from the crops he raised. “No,” she said. “We buy our food from the store like everyone else. My father has an important role to play in feeding the world.”  I let the conversation end since I find it hard to respond to illogical talking points. 

So I clearly state that I am a small CSA farmer. I use organic methods, with ultra-low levels  of carbon inputs. I build the fertility in the soil so that the crops I offer have the highest nutrient values. I foster biological diversity on the farm. I intensively farm enough land to supply the vegetables for up to 100 families for the full growing season. I use the latest and most advanced methods of producing natural foods. Those who follow will be able to do the same! This means I don’t have use for $500M boom sprayer, I don’t need HAZMAT procedures for our farm supplies, and the community I grow for recognizes the face of their farmer!

Farmer Pete

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Winter Foods

When this land was populated by native peoples February was known as the hunger moon. A long time from the last growing season. If the harvest had been good then people might pass the winter comfortably. Struggles and hunger for anything else. For our household the winter passes comfortably. 

Last seasons’ crop of Painted Mountain Corn was a good one. Taking suggestion from customers and experimenting with the corn has resulted in new appreciation for the variety of foods that can be made. Some of the corn was ground for corn meal. What a great fresh flavor it has. Some was soaked and simmered for soups. It’s such a firm kernel  that this method resulted in lots of jaw work. So a Mexican style preparation was tried with lime. What a great hominy this made! It’s gone into posole with success. Soon more will be used for nixtamal to make tortillas. 

Winter squashes have appeared regularly on the table. This shows why some squashes are called winter squashes. They store well and improve in flavor through the winter.  The best squashes that are free of blemishes or scarring are stored in the cold garage. The Butternut that remain have been the absolute best in flavor and texture that we can remember. Rich and flavorful with a pleasant sweetness. The kids are getting a little sick of squash, but manage to always put a few scoops on their plates since it is so good.  We prefer to bake squash in a medium oven.  Roasting seems to bring out the best flavors. 

Our neighboring state of Indiana had a report about the drought of last summer. They had areas that suffered much more than we did. With winter precipitation the lingering deficits have been erased. All go for farmers. Of course farmers are never so gullible to believe weathermen.  So we hear of record well drilling and pivots going in. I guess if farmers make money on high water demand crops, they’ll pump water until it runs out or costs too much to justify. Interesting that the Painted Mountain corn yielded great on natural rainfall on all but about 20’ of the 100’ row.  
Farmer Pete

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Join Harmony Acres CSA!

I started and produced for the Old Sauk Trail CSA for three years. That was a wonderful experience.  I lost access to the land through the landowners foreclosure and was offered a job to run another CSA at about the same time.  This 2nd CSA was a start-up and turned into a nightmare.  After that horrible year I was l was surprisingly keenly interested in still farming and developing CSA. I found a welcoming and ideal location at Tillers International. 2012 was the beginning of our cooperative work and proved to be a good foundation to develop CSA. Harmony Acres CSA is unfolding and gaining members.  This CSA and coming season is the first time in a long while that I’m excited and eager for the year to begin. Every season has its challenges. I’m excited to see what there is to be learned from them this year.  

CSA operates uniquely in combining consumers, producers, and farms into a mutually beneficial group.  Each of the three primary components, (farmers and the farm capital, farm ecology, and shareholders) needs to benefit and contribute for success and continued development. Failure to balance the contributions and benefits from any of the components can lead to CSA’s not preforming or even failing. Many CSA’s are marketing extensions of vegetable farms or groups of farms. They are interested in the committed distribution of pre-paid crops. Many of these farm initiated efforts do a good job but may not provide the support and continued involvement of the shareholders. Should a natural disaster, injury or accident compromise the farm, the CSA may end up in dire straits. Other farm initiated CSA’s are so marketing oriented that they experience high member turn-over and dissatisfaction. 

The CSA needs to support the farmers. A reasonable standard of living needs to be achievable. Work conditions have to evolve and improve. Farm work can easily overwhelm motivated farmers. I’ve known more than a few that called it quits from lack of appreciation or burn-out. 

And, lastly the farm needs to be tended so that it can sustain the production for the shareholders. Many farmers recognize the necessity of feeding and building the soil. Our world exists largely because of the plant life that converts sunlight (energy) into food we can utilize. Without the soil we and all we know would perish!

The Harmony Acres CSA invites those in our community to consider supporting the development of our farm and involving themselves in the CSA. You will be rewarded with a deep connection to the farm where your food is produced and enjoy the most nutritious local food available!

Farmer Pete

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