Genuine Faux News of the Farm
Vol 4 Issue 3 - March 2008
The first thing that comes to mind for many people if you tell them that you work on a small, organic vegetable farm is – “that’s a lot of work” – followed by – “I sure am glad I don’t do that.” Tammy and I won’t try to paint that picture any differently than it is. There is a great deal of physical, mental and spiritual labor that goes into making this farm be what it is. We often get tired and sometimes wish it would all go away. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever been challenged more by my occupation – and this includes the completion of a doctoral dissertation in Computer Science Education.
What confuses us is the perception that physical labor is so undesirable that we, as human beings, work so darned HARD to avoid it. A recent commercial for one tractor manufacturer emphasized how work would be done ‘effortlessly’ with their new tools. Some conventional farmers have told us that they are happy they have chemical herbicides to do the ‘weeding’ work for them. Farms have grown larger and become monocultural (one crop) to facilitate labor saving devices. People seem to be positively allergic to the physicality of raising food.
We even go so far as to reward the physical laborer the least of those who are a part of our workforces. Those who are willing to take on these tasks are often denigrated and we equate this sort of work with brainless tasks and an absence of ownership that causes me to cringe.
But, our experience tells us that growing produce can be a rewarding process. It has its redundancies as well as its unpredictability. Serenity can be found in purposeful repetition when one knows the good that comes from the work. Challenge can be found in seeking a balance between production desires and the current realities presented by nature. Satisfaction is found in work that requires the whole person to participate in order to succeed.
It would be incorrect to conclude that we advocate for inefficient processes just so we achieve some requisite level of 'hard labor.' It is more accurate to state that many of the most efficient processes require honest work. A sustainable operation is one that will not need exhorbitant inputs to continue to exist and succeed in its goals. It would not be a sustainable farm if we did not intelligently choose tools, techniques, varieties and distribution methods that fit our resources.
So, we plan to work hard again this season. We will reap produce and we will gather satisfaction that we are both working intelligently and well. We will take pleasure in seeing the crops come in and be distributed. And, yes, we may even admit to some amount of pride in the hard work we have done.
Our pages on vegetable varieties are always on our 'to do' list. However, they have undergone some transformation in the last month. We do not expect to have the time to do much more with them until next winter. Please take a moment and visit them if you have interest. If you have specific suggestions, questions or comments, feel free to contact us.
Our varieties for a subset of vegetables have been updated for the 2008 season. We have included a variety list page for those who are interested in what we are currently growing. We are also considering development of a quick reference page that indicates why certain varieties are on our grow lists and why other varieties have been removed. We see these pages as having a dual purpose - to educate our customers and to provide information to other growers in the area.
J.D. Gussow - "...if we lose all of our local farmers, we'll have to depend completely on ...foods shipped from far away. To date, rich folks like us have been able to do this because transportation - gasoline - is so cheap. All of the forecasts about future petroleum availability assure us that this will not continue. So we need to keep local farmers in business." (p. 117 in This Organic Life)
4 Issue 3- March 2008
We know the health of the farm is important to you, so we have put together a brief summary for the newsletter.
In our third year of running the CSA/farm business we can report that we did realize a profit against direct expenses. Overhead expenses, such as electricity must yet be calculated for tax purposes. But, we expect a small profit even with overhead figured in.
The income split shows that we improved on our diversity of sales in 2007 by establishing some direct sales links (Roots, UNI, Somewhere Else) for bumper crops. We anticipate that the CSA portion will stay steady, the farmers' market sales may decrease and direct sales will increase in future years.
Our equipment expense is likely to stay steady in 2008. The poultry expense will likely increase with higher feed prices. The seed expense will fluxuate every other year as we often take advantage of lower bulk prices and purchase seed for two years. We have significant building projects this year and next that will increase this expense. Gasoline prices are going to increase further - we are taking steps to reduce our reliance on this commodity.
Now that we have established what we feel will be our long-term field sizes for the farm, we are able to begin assessment of potential production. Some crops (e.g. tomatoes) fell far short of their potential in 2008. We feel we could produce approximately 6 tons of tomato in a year that potential is reached. On the other hand, we are not at all certain we can improve on our production for winter squash.
Successes in 2007
Changes/Adjustments for 2008
You may have noticed, but there are multiple references to fossil fuels in the March newsletter. There are many reasons for this, but the foremost is the fact that we work to be responsible with our resources on the farm. We can either take the altruistic approach that we want to reduce our carbon footprint or we can look at the bottom line. Gasoline represented nearly 10% of our expenses in 2007 and higher prices are coming.
Some of our current five-year plan includes application for an energy grant that will help us build renewable energy collectors on the farm. Thus, some of our tool purchases will lean towards electric, rather than gas, engines.
For example, we are looking for a power washer. A power washer should reduce cleaning time and reduce water use, making it a wise tool choice for our operation. However, most of the better power washers are gas-powered, but our research shows good electric powered washers exist.
Second, we believe it is important to purchase well-made tools. We need reliable equipment that can handle consistent use. We also don't believe in buying tools that are intended to be 'tossed' after their expected life span is reached.
Watch these pages for more on this front in future months.
Vol 4 Issue 3- March 2008
Once again, the Genuine Faux Farm will go through training that will allow us to accept the WIC/FMNP coupons at farmers' markets this season. This program benefits society in two ways. First, it provides low income parents and the elderly with support and encouragement to purchase fresh and healthy foods. One of the biggest arguments against fresh, local food systems is that it often excludes lower income families. Second, it supports the local food system by encouraging a broader base of customers.
If you are interested in learning more about this program (either as a recipient or a market vendor), please go here.
We have been selected to hold a Practical Farmer's of Iowa field day in late summer/early fall of 2008. Our participation in the tomato 'staking' research trials made us a candidate for a field day to present/exhibit the trial and its results up to that point.
The date has not been selected at this point, but it does have an important implication for us at the farm! We want to look good when other growers and interested PFI members come visit us. Be prepared that we will put out a call for help to try and spruce up for this event. Certainly participants will not expect perfection - but we'd like to show that we do care about how we look - even during the busiest time of the season.
A quick look at our calendar for the next month shows a number of instances where Tammy and/or Rob are taking advantages of opportunities to encourage sustainable practices in our area.
Tammy gets the ball rolling with a presentation on organic flower gardening to a group at the Peace-UCC church on March 11. Rob will take a different approach and present to two different classes at Wartburg on the 12th and the 19th of the month. The first will be Amy Nolan's IS 101 class and the second will be Ed Westen's Biology 440 class.
Tammy will participate in the Wartburg Chapel Commons "Food Fight" on March 19, starting at 7pm. The focus of the event will be on food related issues and hunger/poverty. The following Saturday (March 22), Rob and Tammy will maintain at table at the annual Farm Bureau Pancack Breakfast at the 4-H building from 9:00 to noon. We will represent our farm, the Waverly and Tripoli Farmers' Markets and NIFFP.
On March 24, Rob and Tammy will maintain at table at UNI (Maucker Union) from 10:30-2:00, in an effort to educate students about local and organic food options. There will be more opportunities for us in April, but this represents our last gasp in this area prior to our gardens hitting full stride!
Our first official Tom Sawyer Day is scheduled for April 25, from 2pm to 6pm. An email announcement will be sent out approximately a week and a half prior to the event. Those interested in participating are stongly encouraged to RSVP so we can plan. If you wish to attend for part or all of the event, you are welcome. If you cannot attend during this time period, please contact us and let us know what you might like to do (and when).
There is plenty of work to do on the farm prior to TSD I. If we receive sufficient interest, we could be persuaded to organize a late March/early April 'pre-TSD' event.
We are pleased to announce that Lara Martinsen-Burrell has agreed to be the Waverly Farmers' Market Manager for the 2008 season. The Waverly market is poised to become a vital part of the community and Lara provides us with the energy, insight and ability to turn this into a reality. We are hopeful that the new season will see the market at its downtown location on both Tuesdays and Saturdays. We also anticipate more purposeful programming and community involvement.
Steve Kazda and Joyce Maxey will continue as Market Masters and Rob and Tammy Faux will be assistants. The addition of Lara to this staff provides us with an individual who can focus on creating successful market-wide events. Come visit our market this year and encourage us to become a stronger part of your community!
Both the beef and the pork are at their respective lockers. We plan on picking the pork up during the week of March 10. We suspect the beef will be ready to pick up by the week of March 17. Participants, please be prepared to help us transfer your share to you in a timely fashion.
Vol 4 Issue 3- March 2008
If you look to the right, you can see our CSA Tally Sheet. We still have a ways to go before we reach our goal for the 2008 season.
It is time for us to turn our plans into action, just as it is time for you to insinuate yourselves into our plans! If you were a member in 2007, please let us know your intentions for 2008 by returning the SASE and applications. Remember, you can reserve a spot with $25. If your summer plans do not allow you to be members in 2008, please use the SASE to tell us this as well!
If you want to see what is coming for 2008, please feel free to visit the appropriate CSA web pages. You can also download the appropriate forms and mail in your application, deposit and/or payment for a share.
The farm has collected $330 towards our Reduced Price Share Program in 2008. Thank you to everyone who has donated towards this program. We will continue to accept these donations until the subscription period closes. With this level of funding, we are able to offer either three small shares or two large shares at half prices (with a payment plan) to low-income subscribers.
If you, or someone you know, is interested, please go here to learn more. If we have no RPSP subscribers this season, we will contribute equivalent produce to the food shelf in Waterloo in addition to our planned donations.
Members of the CSA are automatically added to our newsletter distribution list. They are also on our distribution list for special announcements. Members will be the first to know about cooperative meat buys, special events and announcements.
Local Friends of the Farm
You may opt in to this list even if you are not a CSA member. You will receive monthly notices when the newsletter is published. Members of this list will also periodically receive announcements about gatherings, cooperative buys, etc, but will often be notified of special buys after CSA members have had the first opportunity.
Friends of the Farm
Our friends and family are spread all over the globe. We will gladly allow any interested party to opt in to this list. Members of this list will receive only our monthly announcements regarding the newsletter.
It was our first home purchase, therefore it was our first yard. It was not, however, our first garden. In fact, it was our fourth as a married couple. But, for the previous three instances the garden location and size was dictated to us. So, you can guess that we were anxious to do ALL the things we had dreamt of doing with a garden (and then some) with our new home.
As is often the case with newer home owners, the variety of tools we had at our disposal was limited. Our abilty to find people in the community that had tools we could use was also limited. Or perhaps, our pride didn't allow us to look. Either way, we had a nice, big yard. And it demanded a nice, big garden. Even if all we had were a couple of shovels, a couple of rakes and a push mower.
The ideal location for the garden received the most sun. And thus, the lawn was lush and full where we wanted it to go. On the other hand, there were other patches of lawn that were bare. The obvious solution was to dig up sections of sod, break the soil off of them, and move them to the bare patches elsewhere in the yard.
Many hours were spent cutting up patches of sod, breaking the rich, blue/black dirt off of each piece by hand and moving it to some new location. Our work started in March and didn't end until the last patch of grass was removed from our 30 by 30 foot garden in June. Of course, we planted our garden in stages as we freed parts of it up.
In essence, we hand prepared, weeded and cultivated 900 square feet. We mulched our garden well with cut grass and had very little trouble with weeds during our time there. There were many good meals from that garden and our neighbors received fresh produce and free entertainment - if watching two people sit on the ground, diligently removing dirt from sod is entertaining.
For pictures of this garden, go here.
Vol 4 Issue 3 - March 2008 page 5