Agropraxis Farm

  (Scotts, Michigan)
A Ultra-Low Carbon input farm using Eco-Bio methods.
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CSA Fair, Kalamazoo

Kudos to colleague Gina Wirtz. Gina took the lead to promote local farms at the showing of a documentary at Alamo Draft House that was sponsored by the local Food Bank, Loaves and Fishes. I joined the CSA Fair to promote our Harmony Acres CSA. It was a nice collaborative effort as farmers shared tables and conversation while the documentary was showing. The farmers were trying to get through this lingering winter and maybe pick-up a new shareholder. It really felt like being at Market except nobody really had any produce to sell. We all passed out a lot of information and spoke with a wide range of interested people. What a great start to an annual effort to promote local CSA’s.

 

The conversation was about the prospects of spring making an appearance. We’ve had a few brief glimpses but nothing resembling typical spring weather. We had snow the other morning; wet, and cold that nearly deflated all hopes of green grass and spring blossoms appearing anytime soon. We also talked about the damage winter weather may have done on our farms (more than I thought) and how the growing transplants are filling all spaces available since they can’t go outside or be hardened off yet.

 

Gossip was exchanged and relished (No I don’t make a habit of spreading it more than a teensy bit). Hopes for the season were typically high with the winter used to plan for success and adjust mental attitudes. Some of the farmers brought younger members of the farm families and they were ohhed and aahhhed over. Some of us talked about uncertain plans that may have hatched in ideal minds. What a great sounding board for these ideas… A few may survive and become reality. A comment that a nice day of work on the farm would help with mental attitudes, restlessness and random thoughts that steal sleep at 2 am. I had to agree!!!

 

What I found really cool about this event is that it brought the food consumers together with the food producers and allowed us an enjoyable way to pass a late winter evening. Here’s looking forward to next years’ CSA Fair!!!

Farmer Pete

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What's the Question?

Helping people gain a better understanding about their food choices and how food is produced seems to be a significant part of what I do. At events, market and conferences I take a view that an informed customer is a good customer. I take the time and gladly answer questions. There are so many conflicting bytes of information bombarding people the farmer would seem a key source of information on how food is produced, how this impacts the farm ecosystem, and consumers’ health and wellbeing.

 

Like most direct marketers of food, I have to be able to engage and discuss how my food is produced and how that benefits consumers. Of course this is easiest to do if I am transparent about what I do. No fabrications or misrepresentations (That’s right, completely unlike a politician). No false claims and the willingness to challenge misconceptions even if they threaten a persons ideals. The people I have to work the most on are other farmers and gardeners that have a limited scope focused on hot weather crops.

 

Other farmers are often specialists, it could be tree fruit or poultry. They take their specialty understanding and often overlay it onto market vegetable/CSA production and make comments or ask questions. A frequent comment is monocroppers (corn/soy) who wonder what we do about bugs? I used to ask, “The good ones or the bad ones?” Which typically prompted the response, “They’re all bad!” But this season I’ll probably shift to a slightly different version by responding, “We love bugs and the important things they do for our farm ecosystem! What should I do with them?” The other common question deals with how many acres I work. If I was a western cattle rancher I’d need tens of thousands. If I was a monocropper producing government subsidized grain then I’d need several thousand acres to make a living and service my debt. But as a CSA farmer I need only a few acres. So I take the time to let farmers know that I can generate over $20M of market value crops per acre and I don’t have to work a huge number of acres to make my way.

 

Gardeners develop their skills by watching shows, from others or from childhood experiences. So they end up with a lot of creative ways of doing things. For some reason the most common question from gardeners is, “When do you start your garden?” Like a certain date on the calendar holds a key to success with cabbage, tomatoes and cukes. I really like this type of question though, because it allows me to push open a door to understanding; that gardening never has a starting day, rather it is a continuous process. When I can get gardeners to grasp that perennial, cold weather and hot weather crops will all fit into their plans, they realize that they don’t need a whole weekend to “Put in the Garden.” The other thing I like to emphasize with gardeners is that mulching is such a key part in promoting a healthy garden. So many gardeners strive for the bare dirt, weed free ideal that they quickly get discouraged when nature tries to heal their wounding of the land. Mulching with compost, leaves or other yards wastes really helps.

 

I’d like more questions from food consumers though. The emphasis in agriculture has been on finding ways to increase yield. This typically fails when we look at nutrition and eating satisfaction. The lower yielding varieties can have much greater nutrient values. Many heirlooms are valued because of their flavor and the unique eating qualities. I grow a variety of carrots. Some for flavor, some that store well and others for fresh eating. None because they yield the highest. A final important point. The farmer with the first crop of an item gets a premium at market. The efforts to grow for early sales often requires extraordinary measures. This effort is often contrary to what nature would support. I’ve had a  feeling that producing at peak times is also where we’ll find peak nutrition. Those early strawberries may look nice but when the main crop is in, is when the best value can be found!

 

Farmer Pete

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Where is Spring?

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 yourself!  

 

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 entertaining.

 

Farmer Pete

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