Agropraxis Farm

  (Scotts, Michigan)
A Ultra-Low Carbon input farm using Eco-Bio methods.
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Naturally Flexible!

Working with nature is a cornerstone of biological/ecological farming. At times we want to use the calendar to help us determine the time for sowing and transplanting. This year is an example of the flexibility and patience needed from a farmer to mesh an early season crop plan with natures’ whimsy. The calendar says one thing and the world on the farm is not in sync with that printed paper guide.

 

Typically early, plants are hardening off and would go in the ground soon. When the Stella Natura calendar urges action, like transplanting or direct seeding , the chore is done.  With the extended late winter cold the ground remains unworkable.  The calendar recommendations seem absurd. So the chores are delayed.  Nature has no calendar, just the unfolding of cycles that can wobble and deviate from the expected. Eventually the season will arrive. The plants will be moved to their prepared spot in the field and we’ll all wait to see what nature offers next. Flexibility, patience and more “experience” in dealing with nature…

 

On Saturday my darling wife and I travelled the back roads of south west Michigan to attend a meeting of Volunteers at Fenn Valley Winery,  http://www.fennvalley.com/ .  We are a part of a group of Food and Wine enthusiasts that are trained and volunteer to help this outstanding Michigan Vineyard and Winery put on events and activities for its guests. It’s always good to be among friends and fellow farmers  and to share food and wine! Last year was a great one for wine grapes and we were introduced to some of the new wines. Fenn Valley has some great events planned for the coming year and I hope you will consider attending those that may appeal to you.

 

Our wanderings through this part of our state took us through Decatur, MI  to stop at Southern Michigan Seed., http://www.smsseed.com/. Through a farm friend I found this great family operated business. They provide cover crop, pasture and vegetable seeds. I picked up untreated cover crops for the market gardens at Tillers International. I added some open pollinated, untreated sweetcorn  seed  they offer. Normally this business would be busy with farmers and gardeners but was quiet. We had a moment to greet and chat. Always nice to do when weather changes the way folks go about their activities.

 

Driving through the fruit and blueberry portions of the region showed us that snow lingers and the typical early spring greening is still a ways off.  Patience is the lesson from nature…

 

Farmer Pete 

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Gardening Advice

On a listserv I follow a new member asked for advice on what books would we suggest for a beginning gardener. A prompt response suggested the Square Foot Gardening, which is the same advice I always give. A few more posts suggested other acceptable works. Then the thread turned into a verbal comparison of preferred methods between experienced gardeners. It brought to mind the comment from William Woys Weaver in a talk I attended. He said that American gardeners lack a defined garden layout and style and felt we would eventually evolve to an identifiable form. The comparison of methods is part of this evolution. The only unfortunate thing about the thread on the listserv is that a new gardener was looking for help and may have ended up with too much complicated advice.

 

For small garden spaces the Square Foot model gives sound, organic methods to grow food. I have a copy from 1984 when I started and had questions to explore. Over the years I read and incorporated ideas from other works by Jeavons, Nearing, Coleman, and Solomon. As I did a style evolved that expressed my interests and utilized my skills efficiently. In practice and through talking with others an  understanding of organic food raising now informs my efforts. My learning continues and the amount I know is enough to get by but comes with the recognition of how much I can still learn.

 

When someone asks for direction and information I find it useful to help with direction and encouragement. Where others may leap forward and give answers, I think this comes at the sacrifice of an individuals’ understanding and accomplishment of learning for themselves. I hope the new gardener isn’t discouraged and begins with Square Foot…. Too many experts and we may never find reason to develop an American Style.

 

Farmer Pete

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Kid's in the Kitchen!

We make most of our food from scratch. The farm produce is typically the center of most meals. So you don’t see many boxes in our grocery cart. This local-seasonal eating style is an economical choice as well as a health based choice. We try to inspire the same type of eating through our efforts at Farmers Market and through the CSA we grow for, Harmony Acres CSA. Our oldest was home on spring break and wanted to treat us for dinner the other night. The treat was a home cooked gourmet spread that made us proud!!!

 

Our kids help in the kitchen a lot. They love to fix desserts. They’ve learned that if they want to be certain there will be dessert, then they better find the time and check to see what’s on hand rather than complain about why we never have any! The middle child helped with cutting up the chickens last week. Necks, backs and wings went into the stock pot and the rest for dinner. The importance of compliments and thank-you’s always come easier for the kids when they know the work going into food.

 

Before their cooking event the kids looked through the food magazines and a few cook books for ideas. It struck me that so many of the gorgeous pictures and recipes were completely unachievable. One  had a recipe for snow peas, yellow peppers, and radicchio salad. The magazine was a February issue. None of that produce is in season…maybe at the grocery store! This scenario helped me realize that our home eating style has evolved to a seasonal and stored food style that meets our needs. Yes, we have canned tomatoes, frozen meats and vegetables and dried fruits and herbs. They can be combined to make wholesome meals that save us considerable money on our food bills. They also limit our choices to what is seasonal and preserved.  We end up looking or creating meals from the pantry rather than the beautifully styled food entertainment media.  Incidentally, the kids did an outstanding job on the meal. What a treat!

 

Farmer Pete

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A talk by William Woys Weaver

Those who go before us can teach and inspire us to make our lives better and improve our shared destiny.  Michael Pollan wonderfully stated that the “Food” community stands on the shoulders of Joan Gussow, Wendell Berry, and Alice Waters.  Those of us who grow food acknowledge a similar role to the Nearings’, Rodale’s and William Woys Weaver. On Saturday March 2nd it was my pleasure to attend a presentation by Dr. W. W. Weaver at Goshen College. The author of 16 books, contributor to magazines and teacher has been influencing gardeners to undertake his mission of growing, eating and enjoying heirloom plants.

 

The talk was broken into two separate lectures delivered with  Power Point support. The first lecture was more historical and concentrated on the Kitchen/Potager gardens that developed along with Western Civilization. The layout of gardens through history, the development of basic foods, and how they influence what we eat and grow today. The garden was presented as a key factor in supporting both the food needs and medical needs. Gardens traditionally had a medicinal group of plants that were grown to support health. I enjoyed this aspect of the lecture. So much of our health and wellness has been separated from its traditional place in our lives and gardens.  The garden had a much more holistic importance in times past.  A last comment from Dr. Weaver sticks with me, “There should be a brick pathway between the kitchen and the garden.” In addition to growing year round the garden needs to be an integral part of our lives.

 

The second lecture was about Heirloom plants and food. This tied in with his award winning book, Vegetable Heirloom Gardening. I enjoyed his easy definitions and manner during the lectures. Of particular note was his definition of an Heirloom. “like me, something more than 50 years old!”  He went on to detail important points: owning the seed, encouraging Biodiversity, supporting a biologically active ecosystem that is resistant to pests and diseases. He explained that his book was lauded with lots of praise and it may have “moved the mountain a few inches.” We now see “heirloom” products all over our foodscapes from restaurants and Farmers Markets to the big box Grocers.

 

As a farmer I really enjoyed his enthusiasm for  plants. His farm, Roughwood Farm in Devan, Pa maintains a seed stock of 4500 plants! He encouraged us all to be involved in saving seed, sharing with others and learning from the plants. “Plants talk! They have their own language. It’s not French or Italian, so you’ve got to learn their language. When you do you will be gaining a connection with the life force of the plant.”  He concluded the lecture with this quote, “Seeds are the common heritage of all mankind, they are the hope of our shared destiny.”

 

A wonderful inspiration for this time of year…

Farmer Pete

 
 
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