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Archive for January, 2012

Happy New Year!

What a difference a year makes.  Last New Year’s Day I posted pictures of carrots and spinach harvested from under snow cover.  The excessive hot dry weather in the fall of 2011 precluded good germination of fall planted crops.  Sorry, no snow carrots this year.  However, the current beautiful weather we are enjoying is allowing us to get a lot of the spring garden work completed early, including planting spinach for the spring harvest.  That’s right.  No need for a high tunnel this year.  The day of our families’ Christmas parties Ryan and I transplanted three varieties of spinach from the greenhouse into the garden.  The plants, started in the greenhouse in soil blocks, have already rooted and are benefitting from conditions created by a double layer of floating row cover and a sheet of plastic at the ready for the 10 degree nights like we had last Monday.  But, the biggest difference this year is that Ryan and I have formed a partnership, and there are now two full-time farmers for the first time in the 16 years that I have been operating as The Farm at Kraut Run.  Ryan is totally committed to growing organic food and selling it to the local community through our CSA as well as living the sustainable farming life to its utmost.  I am happy to say Ryan has invested himself in helping me bring a lot of my perennially nascent plans to life.  My wife Kelli calls it mutual insanity, but Ryan really has bought into my methods of farming from the hand cultivated raised beds in the garden to the chicken tractors and pasture raised hogs.  We practice a low input, low intervention style of agriculture that I believe is the answer to healing our abused planet and providing a truly sustainable food supply for our children’s future.

From “no-till” in the 70’s to “organic” in the 90’s and “sustainable” in the 00’s, industrial agriculture has usurped the lexicon of small-scale sustainable farming and lulled the consumer into thinking that good things are happening in the “food industry” (my favorite or maybe least favorite oxymoron).  No-till farming is awesome!  Without tillage there is little soil compaction allowing water, air, nutrients, and soil building fauna to move freely about the soil strata.  In theory, industrial no-till agriculture conjures the “idea” of organic matter, worms and soil fertility.  In practice, no-till farming relies on massive amounts of petroleum based chemicals and multiple passes through the field, poisoning and smashing soil microbes and worms into oblivion.  Those brown spots on the organic apples of the 60’s (Hey farmer, farmer put away your DDT now) allowed us to see for ourselves that no chemicals were being sprayed on our food.  The National Organic Standard of the 90’s, rather than clarifying the definition of organic in the consumer’s mind, confuses the issue further allowing for a tremendous amount of “safe” chemical use and raising animals indoors in overcrowded conditions.  YIKES!  The turn of the century brought on a new dialog centered around the idea of sustainability.  I would argue that sustainability is impossible even on our scale, but to hear Monsanto ads claiming Genetic Modification to be sustainable makes me throw up in my mouth a little.

Sadly, there was a lot of bad news about food in 2011 from the approval of genetically modified alfalfa and sugar beets to the scrapping of plans to reverse approval of antibiotics in animal feed.  The good news is that you have a choice.  Members of The Farm at Kraut Run CSA enjoy buying produce, eggs and meat that has been produced as if it was meant to be eaten.  I know that may sound crazy, but if you REALLY knew how conventional food is grown and handled you would be disgusted.  Even whole foods like fruits and vegetables, when produced conventionally in exhausted soils, don’t contain the nutrients that you expect.  We sow organic, and often heirloom seeds, in soil blocks made from our own compost and garden soil.  Then, transplants are set out into raised beds that have been fertilized with compost and cover crops (more on cover cropping).  Our produce is harvested, washed, chilled over-night, then handed directly to our members the next day.  No man-made fertilizers, no pesticides, no shrink wrap, no handling, no shipping, just fresh food the way it was meant to be grown and enjoyed.  As for the chickens, ducks, pigs and goats that provide eggs, meat and milk, they enjoy a similar low input, no intervention life here on the farm.  All of our animals forage for a large portion of their diet.  The chickens live in movable houses that allow them to find bugs to eat and dust in which to bathe.  The ducks have the run of the place, foraging and swimming to their hearts delight.  The pigs are behind fences, but we move those fences regularly to provide fresh forage.  The most recent butchering was done by Swiss Meat & Sausage Company in Hermann, Missouri.  It was a trek to get them there, but the results are worth it.  Swiss Meat Company cures the meat with organic ingredients and without adding nitrates.  The ham and bacon are amazing.  And, because we raise heritage breeds, this is red meat, not “the other white meat” that the industry manufactures on factory farms known as CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).

 

We are often asked “what do you do all winter?”  Well, the answer is winter is short and the to-do list is long.  Winter is the time to make compost.  Turning a compost pile can almost be described as pleasurable in winter’s cooler temperatures, and a well-constructed compost pile can still reach 170℉, turning waste into fertility you can’t buy.  An organic farm such as ours lives and dies by the quality and quantity of our compost, as we do not use any purchased fertilizers (the benefits of compost over fertilizers is vast).

 

Additionally, there are always some crops growing and being harvested, while there are  other things being started in the greenhouse (by January 15 greenhouse work starts in earnest).  One of the comments we received last year was a desire for more leeks and yesterday Darlene and Liz transplanted the first 500 leeks, while more are on the way. Meanwhile we are sifting and making soil block mix, repairing chicken houses, moving hog fence, planting fruit trees, transplanting strawberry plants, cultivating and cover cropping our raised beds whenever weather permits, ordering seed, planning crop rotations and generally trying to improve what we do.

Our CSA sign-up information for the 2012 season is out, and we are looking forward to seeing you all this summer when you pick up your share of the harvest.  We wish you all the healthiest and happiest 2012.

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