Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quick field update

This week we harvested our first row of onions. They have been laid out on tables in the greenhouse to help remove some of the moisture before we put them in the attic of the barn to dry them. As of last week we have harvested all our garlic and it is has been bunched into ten, tied with twine and hung from the rafters in our barn. We have over 2000 heads and they will take 6-8 weeks to cure. We started digging up our potatoes, Norland Reds and this purplish color potato, not sure the variety, and have dug up over 300 lbs worth. The drought spell has finally been broken and we have had over three inches of rain the past few weeks. Tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers, beets and carrots are plentiful and we have another round of head lettuce ready. The summer is flying by and I can't believe August is upon us.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

SOB: Son of a Bee

I have a confession to make. I am afraid of bees. Its a rather embarrassing confession one that merits further exploration. We'll skip the obvious question of why I am afraid of bees for now and delve right into the real question, why on earth would I want to work in a garden then? Because, I actually never realized how many bees our acre and a half garden would attract. The tragedy for me is that having bees in the garden is a good thing, and I feel guilty wishing there would be less of them. Bees are the pollinators. Without bees there would be no crops. But every time I hear the hum coming from the rapidly beating wings it sets my heart pumping.

I learned quickly as a child that bee=sting=ouch. Every time a bee invaded my personal space I wigged out and would scream and run away. Unfortunately, little has changed today.

The slow realization that farming=lots of bees didn't kick in until the squash and cucumbers blossoms made their sunny yellow appearance. A cacophony of buzzing sounds all around me and as I am reaching in to harvest squash and I spot four bumble bees sitting in one blossom. They are several blossoms per plant times by the number of plants per row were talking a lot of bees. Sudddenly harvesting became and act of bravery and a source of anxitety for me. I would move the heart shaped leaves aside with my harvesting knife and brace myself for a bee sting in the face.

Ironically, the only time I have been stung was a few weeks ago when I was removing t-posts in the pea bed. All of a sudden I felt a sharp pain in my stomach. I looked down and saw a bumble bee on my shirt. I first ran over to my co-worker Lise screaming for her to get it off me. Then, a rapid fire of expletives followed. Bees really bring out the worst in me. People always say they only sting if they feel threatened. What did I do to that bee? I was just removing a post and was no where near her flowers. Secretly I think they are all SOBs.

While the sting did initially hurt and throbbed a bit for 20 minutes it is not the worst pain I have endured. On my list for most painful experiences is tattoos, belly piercing, jelly fish stings, vaccinations, and then bee stings. Logically I know I shouldn't fear them because most of the time they don't bother us, and even if I am stung, it really isn't that bad.

I have to get over this fear. I have considered several options, one is to get hypnotized, another is to go on Dr. Phil and talk my fears to death, and the last one involves getting a bee suit. My colleagues find this all rather amusing and take great pleasure in reminding me that my future farm will have to consist of crops that don't bear fruit from flowers.

Today I may have found a new ally, Dave my boss, was stung by a bee on the chin. He is mildly allergic to bee stings. We predicted he would have a chin like Jay Leno but he actually grew a double chin an hour later. He also broke out in hives on his hand. This is the second time he was stung this summer and the reactions are getting worse. Before Dave left for the day I asked him if I should order two bee suits. He said he wanted his with wings.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Field trip to the mobile slaughterhouse

Meat, potato, and veg. A rather boring trifecta that makes up the backbone of many Americans' diets, and once made up mine. But what if that meat on the plate was grass-fed and sustainably raised? and the potato and veg were organically grown? Well, now were talking about a whole new meal. Packed with flavors, texture, and a whole lotta love.

The meat part, sustainably raised, has been for me, the hardest to come by. Depending on where you live it can be quite challenging to find grass-fed, local meat, and when you do, it is often prohibitively expensive. Right now, the consumer demand for sustainably raised meat is out pacing the supply. If you picture a hour glass with farmers at the top and consumers at the bottom, the middle is the infrastructure, or lack thereof, slowing everything down. Slaughtering and processing (the act of killing and breaking the animal down into its neat little parts) may not be sexy or even appetizing to contemplate, but its crucial. And here in New York, and all over the US, there is severe shortage of those facilities. Without USDA inspected facilities, meat cannot be sold to the public.

However, the cries for more slaughterhouses have not gone unheard. In 2008, Glynwood created a task force to address this issue. Fast forward to the spring of 2010 and the Modular Harvest System (MHS) was opening its doors for operation in Delaware County. The MHS is dubbed the next generation mobile slaughterhouse by Glynwood. To read more about the Modular Harvest System check out Glynwood's Blog, The Glynwood View.

Last Friday Lise, Dayna, and I hustled to finish our morning harvest so we could hop in the car and drive 125 miles to tour the MHS. I have been curious to see the set-up since I started reading about mobile slaughtering units this past spring. The last hour of the drive the scenery can be summed up as farm after farm with their dilapidated buildings set amongst a backdrop of green rolling mountains. This is real country.

We pulled into a vacant lot in front of a building with a sign that read Eklund Farm Machinery. The first docking site for the Modular Harvest System is located on the Eklunds property, a family that raises dairy cows among other things. Four white trailers make up the MHS and were parked in the yard. They looked rather unremarkable and provided no clue to what goes on inside. We stepped inside one of the trailers. The son, of the Eklund family, explained to us the process. The cow is led inside the chute and stunned, hooked, and bled out, it moves along on a rail system and is trimmed of its hide, split in half with a saw, and then the sides hang to cool in another trailer. A third trailer is used to store the meat after its reached proper temperature and the contents are hauled away to the nearest processing facility to be broken down into steaks, burgers, and what not. The whole process of killing and breaking the animal down can take about an hour, they kill about ten animals a day, and they are operating only one day a week under USDA inspection.

The hope is that in the future, more farms throughout the Hudson Valley will build docking sites so that the MHS can move around to different areas, and stay for a week or a month. Having a slaughterhouse nearby saves farmers time and money, they no longer have to drive long distances or wait 6 months or more to book a kill slot.

The lack of infrastructure is a complicated issue but a very important one. Consumers and farmers are counting on its success. I may never be a meat and potatoes person, but when I do eat meat I want to know it was humanely and sustainably raised, and I would like to have the option to make that choice.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The model strides confidently over to the greenhouse. She is sporting dirty beige shorts, from Target, with a ribbed chocolate tank top, 3 for $20 at Costco, and worn-out Saucony's, 300+ miles of running later. Cameras snap multiple pictures as she fills the trays with freshly mixed potting soil. She doesn't glance at photographers, she is concentrating on counting out two lettuce seeds per cell. More pictures are snapped, she tilts her head and gives a coy smile, playing with the camera.

Ahh, life as a model. If only it were that easy.

Last Thursday and Friday we had two photographers following the garden crew around trying to capture some of our sustainable practices. While the outfit I described above is completely accurate, my response to the photographers was somewhat different. I vacillated between goofy, awkward smiles, reminiscent of my early teenage years, to outright ignoring the camera. The photographers took over 1000 pictures. They shot us seeding, harvesting, fertigating, using the refractometer,and driving the electric tractor. It was both a fun and nerve racking experience, I kept wondering how I should react. Should I try and act natural? Ham it up? Smile? but not too big of a smile, right? The anxiety it caused me has squashed my budding daydream of becoming a model. Too bad, I really liked the idea of putting farmer/model on my business card.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rain on

Last week while driving over the hills in the golf cart to collect eggs from our mobile chicken coops I felt like I was on safari. I am not referring to jostling about as we drive on our bumpy pasture (a very important lesson I have learned was to ALWAYS hold the bucket of eggs, otherwise you end up with egg soup.) It is the vista that has changed dramatically, instead of lush green, we have grass that is yellow and dry and some tree leaves have begun turning red. A clear sign that nature was fed up with this intense sun and heat. Well nature isn't the only one pissed off. Working in 100F heat is no fun. Plus there is the added task of juggling overhead sprinklers and drip tape between the rows of our plants every hour and a half trying to keep them from dying.

Our plants are holding out as best they can but there is a concern that we may not get a second cutting of hay this year. Last year we had too much rain and this year not enough.

Last Thursday though it was like Christmas in July. I was hoeing in the afternoon and felt a few sprinkles on my face. A tease I thought to myself, it will never fulfill my desire. Ten minutes later that light drizzle turned to steady rain. It wasn't hard or fast but felt like standing a few feet away from a sprinkler. I have never been so glad to see rain before.

Over the weekend we got a bit more rain, but not enough to reverse the several weeks of deficit. Tuesday it rained again, on and off in the afternoon. People who are not farmers may complain about the change of weather, I would have too, funny how your perspective changes when you deal with the natural world. Who wants to be inconvenienced with umbrellas, soaked feet, and gray sky?

In the end though, my wanting it to rain is still selfish. I don't like switching irrigation every hour and most of all I don't want the crops to become exhausted by August. I just want it to rain about an inch or two a week. Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Farm Olympics

The sun has really kicked it up a notch. We went from a pleasant mid-80s on Friday to a blistering mid-90's on Sunday. A little bit of sun didn't stop me from celebrating the 4 of July, farmer style! A bunch of farm interns from around the Hudson Valley area gathered at Phillies Bridge Farm, in New Paltz, Ny, for Farm Olympics.

Our host, Anne, had several "events" planned. The first event was to catch as many chickens as possible in two minutes. We could grab their legs or pick them up by the wings. We were instructed not to scare them too much so they could still lay eggs the next day. One person from each farm team stepped over the fence into the chicken yard. I volunteered to go, feeling rather confident after all the chickens I caught for our chicken processing a few weeks ago.

These beautiful Light Brahma chickens had no idea what was about to go down. Anne shouted go and we ran around chasing after the chickens. I was slipping and sliding all over the place in my flip flops as I ran round in circles. My technique involved cornering them and picking them up. I managed to get ten in total. The winning team got 11, only because a rooster is worth 3 points and they picked up two. I, on the other hand, avoided the roosters at all cost. Seeing as how I am afraid of our roosters, I wasn't about to have my ass handed to me in front of an audience.

Next came the pitch fork toss. The goal was to throw the pitch fork as far as possible but it had to stick into the ground. It was much harder than it looked. After three groups tried and failed to stick the pitch fork into the ground my team tried and purposefully through it short so it stuck in the ground. We thought we were pretty clever and had it in the bag until another team out shot us.

After the toss came the relay race. One team member hopped to the make shift finish line, a piece of hose, in a potato sack handed the baton, a cardboard paper towel roll, to the next team mate who ran to the cast iron sink and bobbed for beets. After securing a beet the team mate ran to the field for transplanting. Two people were allowed to transplant a flat of rutabaga 12 inches apart. Dayna dug the holes and I placed and covered the plant. Unfortunately, we were dead last in this area, rather embarrassing. In my defense I was being very thorough and delicate with them. We didn't even get to complete the last leg of the relay, running with an egg on a spoon, because I was still transplanting.

The fourth event was to decide was a competition of which farm has the largest vegetable. One farm brought out the big zucchini, but we brought out a large lemon cucumber and head of soft neck garlic. I think we got points for originality.

Fifth event involved interns lining up and showing off their farmer tan and the audience voting for the best, or worst depending on how you look at it. One guy had major below the bicep tan, one girl had the ultimate sock tan, and another guy had what he called the "oreo", dark on bottom, light in the middle, dark on top. I am really not quite sure how he farms but I am guessing it involves a Speedo.

The last event involved sharing intern horror stories. One guy cut his head open with a post pounder and had cell phone pictures to prove it. Dayna, had a scar on her forearm from a third degree burn she got from a water pump. The post pounder guy obviously won.

The winning farm, not us, won a beet on a necklace. The golden beet! The host farm won the Olympics. Some interns, in jest, cried foul play. We were all gracious winners and losers and after the games we shared a lovely potluck meal.