While we’d love to dwell on the overwhelming amount of precipitation we’ve been hammered with this month and the oddly cold weather we’ve been experiencing, we are focusing on the positive. That said, you should be made aware that there are some crops that are not exactly growing as well as normal and we are feeling a bit pinched as we roll into week five. Thank you for bearing with us as we stumble through some of the strangest weather we’ve ever had to deal with as farmers. Keep your expectations in check when it comes to heat-loving crops like sweet corn and watermelons. They probably aren’t going to come to fruition in 2017 at We Grow with this cool June.
Most of you know that we keep bees at our farm and this week we experienced our first swarm of the season. While it was a pretty standard swarm that was identified, captured and transported without incident, the fact that our intern Racheal got to assist on the capture made it quite exciting. Giving someone a tour of a beehive humbly reminds us of the complex biology of honeybees and how fortunate we are to have them helping us pollinate our crops. Especially with summer squash and cucumbers in blossom right now.
Every week, we open the hives and look over every frame to check for the various stages of larvae or new queen cells. We also monitor for problems like mites or foul brood. We decide if the bees need more space and we add colony boxes or super boxes depending on what the bees are doing inside. Each year, our overwintering success improves. This spring we came thru with a little better than half of our hives surviving, which is an improvement but it could be better. Just maybe, the changes on our farm are helping.
Planting the seed of information about the struggle for today’s pollinators is important and significant. It isn’t just the non-native honeybee that is having a hard time surviving in modern times. Aside from the obvious lawn and garden chemicals, crop monocultures and mites, pollinators are struggling with reduced gene pools and climate inconsistency. Mason bees, bumble bees, hover flies and many more count on us humans to make bee-friendly decisions. Education is key. Learn more at xerces.org.
Learning every day,
Week Five Newsletter
The Growing Gap
“To eat well is to eat in a world where everyone is able to eat well.” A line penned by our farming friend, Tony Schultz several years ago in response to “What does it mean to eat well?” Since starting We Grow, we often contemplate how we eat as a society and what influences us to eat this way. We look at other family’s grocery orders and sometimes question what nutrition these people are even surviving on?
The elephant in the room is the amount of sugar the kids are given at everything they do outside our home. They are rewarded with sugar at school for their achievements, fed candy at church for a snack, have it thrown at them in disturbing amounts at every parade, and bring it home from each of their friends for every holiday. Beating sugar feels like a losing battle.
While we tend to focus on the sugar overload, especially compared to just a generation ago, we lose site of what they aren’t eating. The lack of fresh vegetables and fruits in schools and senior sites is discouraging. Especially when specific vegetables are available locally in season! It is not in the budget to eat well, so we all lose two-fold. Our farmers don’t profit from the direct-to-consumer income and people don’t eat as well as they should.
Food inequality goes well beyond institutions. Take a look at the price of real food in the grocery store. Processed, pre-packaged meals loaded with unpronounceable ingredients and preservatives cost far less than the raw products if you were to actually cook the meal. Microwaves dinners were on sale 10 for $10 last month! Take it a step further and consider eating entirely organic. The price of organic groceries is nearly double conventional and financially out-of-reach for many.
Our broken food system is a small part of things going awry on a national level. Supporting local producers is a small step toward changing people’s interpretation of what it means to eat well. Consider the value you place on every person’s right to eat well, not just those who can afford it and how to get people to demand better food, for all.
Week Four Newsletter
When you own a farm, the work never ends. There is always something to do. An eighty hour work week is an easy feat because we live at our job. We can work for an hour before breakfast and two after supper and get a few more hours in after the boys go to bed. As long as there is light to work by, the only thing stopping a farmer is his or her own will. That voice in your head that tells you it is time to rest. And when you’re behind, that voice tells you to keep going. But too much work can break a person down and wreak havoc on your health and family life.
Our boys, Gus and Dene are nine and seven years old and home from school for the summer. They have household duties much like we did as children. At times we ask them to work with us on the farm so that we can spend time together, but it can be stressful if they don’t do a good job or want to quit. As parents, we struggle with wanting the boys to learn the value of hard work through active participation in the family farm versus having pieces of a “normal” off-farm childhood. But today’s normal childhood includes parents constantly running for their kids.
So into our lives steps baseball. “We can try it – sure. Let’s just see how it goes.” Well, now we have committed four nights a week to the sport. Surprisingly, it has been a good change. Other than speeding up meal time, we are forced to drop farm work and leave. At times only one parent, but nonetheless, we have to sit down, rest in the evening sun, and watch the boys play ball. They have our full attention as we practice catch over lunch break or toss a few pitches in hopes to improve their batting skills. Neither of us is any good at baseball nor are we qualified to teach it, so the boys aren’t exactly destined for the majors. But for now, they learn that we can stop working to find a balance with family. And we continue to entrust grandparents to play a huge role in making sure there are camping trips, swimming and visits to the zoo to keep things “normal.”
We just hope that one day they understand the dynamics of having a farm and livestock and the limitations it brings. Those Sunday afternoon fishing trips are at the cost of an unweeded patch of potatoes or an unpicked bed of cukes. Time away comes at a real price, but at the same time is priceless.
Until next time,
Week Three Newsletter
Careful What You Wish
What a great first week meeting our new members and catching up with the rest of you! As requested, the weather made a 180-degree turn. Now things should grow. As long as the little plants get consistent moisture. The peppers are in their beds and soaking it up. Corn is in the ground. Beans will be replanted as they are coming up sparse. Lots of beets are popping up in rows. Potatoes are coming along nicely too. Carrots, kohlrabi and broccoli from the tunnel should be ready over the next two weeks for your shares. We can’t wait for those carrots! Matter of fact, Dene samples them every day to make sure they are doing good.
This week we moved the young chickens outside and took away their heat. They are adjusting well. Some weren’t sure what to do in the green grass at first, but they learn quickly to chase insects and scratch in the dirt. Realizing our farm emails sent over the winter are often spammed, if anyone else is interested in purchasing processed meat birds please talk to us.
We are doing two batches of 100 birds this summer and they will be available for purchase in late July and early October.
This week, we started attending three markets per week and this consumes a huge amount of time. We had planned all winter on heading to our friends at Pine Grove Pastures to help them get their crops in with our water wheel planter, but the rain kept it from happening in a timely fashion. So finally late last week, Eric and Racheal went there one long day to help them get caught up on planting. Hopefully they will be back on track.
Those of you attending Saturday market in Medford might notice that we have been selling some produce from Red Door Family Farm in Athens. They are very good friends of ours and we help each other in any way possible. They had some produce ready ahead of their schedule and we are excited to offer it to our customers. One thing we noticed about the organic farmers we know is that they are relieved to hang out with people who have the same crazy lives as them and always show up to help you out when it is needed most.
Until next time,
Week Two Newsletter
Cool, Wet Start
Here we go! This is your first We Grow share for the 2017 growing season. The shares are definitely lacking on several things we had planned, but we still have veggies coming in albeit largely from the tunnels. So in true CSA fashion, we are going to share with you everything we have at this time and work our tails off to make up for the lack during over the course of the season. Our best estimate is that we are about three weeks behind last season. This is in part due to wet weather, but more importantly the cold. The cold temps have been keeping things we have planted from growing. The photo above is of Mrs. Farmer and Dene at the Medford Market in late May. Fur hat and all! Alas, we still have lots of time to get more seed in the ground and replant those things that did not germinate as scheduled.
Those of you returning know that this is the time of year when we jump start our digestive tracts into healthy eating with lots of greens. We ask that you embrace greens season and make yourself a salad every chance you get. Think beyond lettuce. Add things you’ve never added before: fresh fruits, nuts, grilled meats, or cheeses and try out a new dressing or make your own from scratch with one of our recipes.
Enthusiasm on the farm is at an all time high with lots of great help and so much positive energy. The volunteers have been returning all spring with a great onion mob kick-off event in May. Our intern Racheal has been busy getting her hands dirty and wholeheartedly dives into every task we assign to her. She especially seems to enjoy the tropical temps in the tomato tunnel through all the cold, rainy spring weather. We are excited to be teaching her many of the important jobs on the farm. Plan to see her at some of the farmers markets for us this summer. Susan has also returned and is bringing a season’s worth of experience with her. As we grow, we find these amazing volunteers and employees make all this hard work a bit easier. And that is going to give us some much needed free time with two boys excited to be taking part in baseball this summer.
Eager to serve you the fruits of our labor,
Week One Newsletter
CLEANING THE FIELDS
The season is winding down and we starting to feel it around the farm. Amazingly, the weather has been holding out with near summer temps day after day. Our average last day of frost is September 13. And we’ve met that goal many times. Back in August we took a gamble when we pulled all the cucumbers in the high tunnel and filled it with beans, salad turnips and carrots. These vegetables are doing exceptional. We have been watching the turnips closely and sampling as needed. They will be shared along with radishes in the near future. We carefully roll the tunnel side up during the hottest part of each day to allow pollinators inside to reach the bean blossoms. Only a handful of tunnel tomato plants have been removed and the rest are still thriving, with a half bushel or more every other day. The greens are growing like crazy in the caterpillar tunnel as well. We should have produce well into November at this rate. What a lengthy growing season!
In the back of our property, we have noted rapid growth in the winter rye cover crops planted in the areas we will utilize next season. The weeds are growing as well, but better to have them germinate now than next spring perhaps. We also noticed that we were able to walk through the new field after an inch of rain this week. This is unheard of in the old field, where we would sink in up to our ankles in heavy mud. Even the pigs are happy to have the warm weather and lengthy fresh pasture as they will be overwintering with us and fed dry grass until it greens up again in the spring.
As the nice weather carries on, so does the work harvesting and cleaning out old crops. Expired plants are coming out of the ground and added to the compost pile. Each week, we remove more rows of black plastic mulch and irrigation line, a dreaded job. We’re also searching for posts, wires and large rocks we inadvertently left lay about for any number of reasons before the weeds consumed the garden. Hopefully Dennis and the rototiller won’t hit too many hazards next spring when everything starts over again.
Enjoying this fall weather,
Eric & Rebecca
Week Seventeen Newsletter
Frame of capped honey on top with bees still working on capping the lower half at We Grow LLC.
This week, we spent a half a day picking rock in a two-acre field at the west end of our property. We spread manure, disced and planted winter rye in the space with plans to grow a majority of our produce in this “new” area in the spring. The soil in this field has a sandy texture compared to they heavy clay we have been working on the east end and the drainage is much better. The soil doesn’t clod into large chunks when wet and we find fewer rocks.
As a farmer, it doesn’t take long to realize that every step in the growing process hinges on our soil type and condition. From seed germination and water retention to laying plastic mulch and getting into an area with a tractor. Rather than forcing the process in an unsuitable area, we are taking the operation to better ground and can not wait to see what this new ground will bring. And for once we feel like we are putting the horse in front of the cart getting some cover crops in rotation before produce.
So while we are out in the field picking up rocks, we can’t help but look around at the piles of moss-covered rocks scattered here and there in each of our fields and pastures. The piles are quite large and centered to make the shortest walk from any part of the field. Some of our piles have rocks as large as a 55-gallon drum! It makes a person wonder about the people who put those rocks there. Who were they? What tools did they have to make the job easier? We know some of these piles were started back in the late 1800’s when this area was homesteaded. Were their children in the field helping or off climbing in the trees along the wood’s edge? What would they think about their land today? Did the deer come eat on their crops like ours today? Were predators a problem for their livestock? Did someone have their hands on this huge rock and try to get it out of the ground a century ago only to find it too large to budge? What it must have been like here when those rock piles were started? How much harder they had to work? How much their lives depended on their ability to be successful in their growing season? How much they relied on community support?
Humbly picking our rock,
Eric & Rebecca
Week Sixteen Newsletter
Dene assisting with the old fanning mill cleaning the rye seed.
Catcher of Rye
Farming has been a learn-as-you-go process being neither of us has a farming background. Oftentimes, we simply don’t realize what we are getting into when we get an idea into our heads. From underestimating the necessities involved in making hay to trying to raise animals without a barn.
So this week, we found ourselves borrowing another piece of equipment to do another specialized task on the farm. We needed to clean our rye seed. Taking the grain to a mill to have it cleaned may have been an option, but then we take the risk of it being contaminated with non-organics. Shortly after we harvested the grain, our neighbor came by to buy some rye seed for planting a food plot. Being unclean, we weren’t willing to sell. He proceeded to mention he has a grain cleaner in his old barn we are more than welcome to use. Just like that! We were considering driving 60 miles and right next door, in the back of an old barn is exactly what we need.
Something similar happened two years ago when we had five acres of grass to bale for bedding. We saw an old abandoned baler and rake in the neighbor’s field. He explained it had been sitting out unused for 15 years. It was buried in the mud. A little TLC and we got the old equipment running like a charm and have used it for two years! It makes us stop and wonder what else is out there in the old barns and rock piles that we could use. A lot of the old equipment is too small or no longer useful to large scale operations. Keep your eyes peeled because we will be looking for things like a chisel plow, hay wagon, gravity bin, planters, a potato digger, etc.
This week, when we started to run our rye seed through the neighbor’s old grain cleaner, we heard their stories about hours and hours spent each fall running the year’s harvest through the old machine. Our boys began to ask questions and eventually took over the process on our farm. Turning the seeds at the end of one season, into the seeds that start the next like it was done before hybrids and seed patents.
Living back in the ol’ days,
Eric & Rebecca
Week Fifteen Newsletter
Bounty of Generosity
This week went by way too fast! What a busy time on the farm to keep up with seeding fall greens, getting end of season goods harvested, and prepping all the fields for next spring. Sounds simple, but that last one is a lot of work. To prep a field, we have to remove plastic mulch and trellising from this season, rip the ground to try and get the grass roots out, plow and disc, scoop manure and spread it over the ground to add fertility, and finally plant winter cover crop. All with the full cooperation of the weather.
Wednesday was an exciting day as our entire family went to Stoney Acres to dig through a bed of carrots and harvest what we need for our members to finish out the season. Kat and Tony have also had some root rot, but they let us sort through and find the good ones in exchange for working with them during their CSA pack. Our worker Susan came along to assist and our parents, Ron and Holly even got roped into the washing action. They also had to drive our “load” back to farm as it was too much for the old minivan to handle. We always learn new things from other farms and seeing their root washer in action was a real eye-opener. We’ll be putting together one of those, maybe this winter.
What would have taken us an entire day with a sprayer took about twenty minutes with their washer. And it was fun to use! We owe a huge thank you to these folks. And if you happen to go to Stoney Acres pizza on the farm on a Friday night, tell them “thanks” from We Grow.
Looking ahead, we have are already making plans for next season. As we start field prep, we need to decide where to plant the garlic this fall and how much we need to put in. What the best layout will be in the new fields to better mechanize planting and weeding, and how to best get organic matter into our soil this fall. This week, we also reserved our spot at the MOSES organic growers’ conference in LaCrosse this winter. This is always an inspirational trip where we get overloaded with valuable information, meet lots of other growers, eat great food and come home ready to grow, motivated to make a difference in our food system.
Grateful for the generosity of others,
Eric & Rebecca
Week Fourteen Newsletter
The Fall Harvest
The Farmer’s Market Customer Appreciation Event was a washout with rain on and off all day, but we still have a lot of fun. Marilyn’s Catering always does a fantastic job prepping samples with the fresh produce we give her, coming up with creative recipes for people to try new things. We had drawings for gift certificates for the market all day and the big zucchini weigh-in had five entries ranging from 5.5 lbs to 8.8 lbs. The greatest part was that one of our farm volunteers, Linda, and her family grew that largest zucchini and won the contest! It made our week!!
Back home on the farm, we got another 4 inches of rain that day. With the cooler weather, the fields are not exactly drying out much. Somehow, we managed to get the rye field turned over and disced and ready for fall manure application. Barely even got stuck. Now we will continue to time the weather for planting our winter cover crop of rye.
Many of our fall crops and new seedings have perished, so please bear with us as we are missing a few things from your shares we had planned on for the rest of the season. Even our kale in the field has given up on living with wet feet. We will be filling in the gaps with other creative short season crops as best we can. Our apologies in advance as we may have some weeks with “choose an item” type situations where we have you choose from a variety of veggies to help fill your shares.
On a positive note, we grew our first melons ever. We aren’t exactly sure when they are ripe, but we have been listening carefully as we knock on them with our fists to try and find the hollow sound of ripening. We’re still not sure if they are ripe so perhaps don’t commit your melon to a potluck just yet. Typically melons with too much rain lack in flavor, so we’ll be curious to see how they turn out. The one we sampled was very good. While picking melons, we began to get nervous about the deer eating the winter squash and started harvesting. We picked the three varieties that seemed most ready and have the butternuts left to go. We’ve got lots for shares!
Knocking on melons,
Eric & Rebecca
Week Thirteen Newsletter
Dene eating tomatoes in the new pack shed at We Grow
“It could be worse” might be every beginning farmer’s slogan. Our fall schedule is being rewritten as more produce succombs to last Thursday’s flooding. We continue to get more rain and we continue to see things perishing in our poorly drained soil in the main field. First it was the tender arugula, then the kokhlrabi, parts of the cabbage and brussel sprout rows. Some of the beets aren’t going to make it either. We are even finding the celery is rotting from the root up through the stem. The worst of it wasn’t realized until Tuesday while digging potatoes with volunteer Tom and finding them rotten from standing in water too long. We quickly turned to the carrots – enough for at least six weeks – to find them rotten as well. While the carrots are lost, we do have a sizeable late planting of potatoes in the back field.
Wasting no time, Wednesday we pulled the cucumber vines from the high tunnel, compost was added and volunteer Greg rototilled the beds in the scorching heat. We put in more carrots, turnips, and greens. Then we turned to the caterpillar tunnel, opened up some wasted space and filled it with radishes, mustard greens, lettuces and more. We’ve got more plans this week for spinach, peas and kohlrabi, largely in covered spaces to help us control the precipitation. Let’s hope for some good growing weather yet as we have lots of 40 and 50 day varieties going in the ground the past few days. Just like that, we are changing up the second half of the season as quickly as the weather that brought us this eye-opener.
There is always something to learn from every situation on our farm. In this case, we realized we absolutely must switch to a raised bed system. We own a bed-shaper but avoided using it this spring for we saw it as additional work – an extra pass over the field with yet another implement burning even more fuel. We never had to deal with so much rain in a field of produce before. Chalk it up to lack of experience perhaps, but at this point, we can only do better next time and hope the weather straightens out for the rest of this season. Keep the rain clouds away from Westboro!
Living and learning,
Eric & Rebecca
Week Twelve Newsletter
Family and friends helping the boys build the pack shed at We Grow
This summer, it seems like whenever it rains, it pours. Literally. It poured on Thursday morning! We received over four inches in just a few hours. Walking around the field that morning, we were amazed at how much of the garden was underwater or a in a river. One of the town road ditches had purged its banks and rushed through the middle of the caterpillar tunnel and washed the top soil to the far end. The water even made its way over the walls and washed through the high tunnel. There is any serious damage aside from erosion, but it sure has made a mess.
Digging field potatoes in the slop today was a bit of a challenge to say the least. Water filled the holes behind us. Thankfully, it is only wet and nothing too serious like high winds or lightning might cause. We can move forward from here with a few nice days of sunshine and smaller rain events. Please.
The pack shed made huge progress over the weekend. One day it was just a cement slab, the next day there were walls and the next day there were trusses and sheeting. Next thing you know there will be shingles and siding. We owe a lot to the kind folks who have come and helped put it together. Giving time to someone else in this day and age is a very generous gift and we are fortunate to be on the receiving end.
This project has been a day dream for so long, working inside the new building is a welcome reality. The past year we have washed vegetables on a plastic table in the yard dealing with rain and mud, the blazing hot sun and wind. At least this year, we added a sink on saw horses to the station.We have worked under a canopy as weather allows or demands. In the cool weather, we have been bringing the produce in the house or freezing our fingers washing and scrubbing outside. And something we often forget is how much less daylight there is as the season stretches into September and October. In the new building we will have lights so we can continue to work as needed. And not having to put away all the packing supplies three days a week is going to save us a lot of time.
Taking one step back and two steps forward,
Eric & Rebecca
Week Eleven Newsletter
THE HALFWAY POINT
Variety is the spice of life. Trying new things keeps life interesting. In the depths of winter, as we mull over our seed list, we contemplate every variety we plan to grow in the coming season. We consider the previous year’s results, we take into account what other farmers recommend and also keep in mind how we can keep things new and changing for our members.
This time of year, we start taking tomatoes to market and we have more varieties than your average garden. Especially this year, being we received hundreds of replacement plants from other farms back in May. Folks who are “tomato connoisseurs” always ask for information about each of the varieties and we heartily explain each one. They know that some are sweeter, some are less acidic, others have very few seeds, some are better for saucing, juicing, the list goes on. In all, there are about 45 different tomato varieties growing here today. Nearly every one is open-pollinated, which means we will save to seeds from our favorites for replanting next year.
Variety was also the hot topic between farmers during the field walk this past weekend. Sunday, we hosted an impromptu lunch and afternoon of socializing with three other local CSA farms. We spent time walking thru the fields and going over each section variety by variety. We shared our own experiences and tips for success or stories of failures all the while jotting down mental notes of variety names and conjuring up our spreadsheet of seeds and rattling off the seed’s sources. The difficult part was getting eight CSA farmers to stop working and just relax!
As our share season marks the half way point, hopefully you have tried a few new varieties of vegetables from our farm. Asian greens? Arugula? Patty pan squash? Hopefully you have added some variety to your meals the past few months. More variety, means more nutrition and healthier you. Even after 12 years of cooking together, this week we discovered zucchini noodles and could not believe how tasty they were! There are always new things to learn and new things to try, the spice of life.
Heading downhill from here,
Eric & Rebecca
Week Ten Newsletter