We had CSA members out to the farm this weekend who got to see our fall production fields in action. They also saw lots of empty fields–but those where once filled with vegetables. There are several stages of field management that go into each planting. Here is a step by step look at our third and final summer squash/melon/cucumber field.
This field’s job is not done yet! Sometime between now and early November we’ll plant the first crop of 2018- garlic! We’ll need to reshape the beds, crack 500 lbs of garlic into individual cloves, and plant! This is one of the final major jobs of the season and it’s hard to believe planting day is right around the corner.
Be careful what you wish for! Last week I hoped for rain but nearly 4 inches was more than I wanted by about 3 inches! It’s soggy out there and we have been forced out the fields. A major undertaking on the farm in fall is getting all our sweet potatoes harvested. All eleven 400ft beds! We planned on starting the task on Thursday with no idea that it would rain all day instead (despite consulting multiple weather sites multiple times of day!) Hopefully our drainage tile will do its magic and we’ll be back on track in no time! But the weather isn’t the only thing throwing wrenches in our plans. Last week Ben had to change not one, but 2 tires on the farm. And just yesterday our farm truck that helps us get hundreds of pounds of produce from the fields to the barn conked out on us. Ben is currently in the middle of diagnosing the problem….while also in the middle of several other projects! So it has been a wet busy week, but it’s really nothing new as the farm life always keeps us on our toes!
Our CSA member potluck will be thisSunday Oct. 8 from 4 to 7. Members are asked to bring a dish to share and after touring the farm and fields, we will feast! It’s a celebration of the season and a time of good food and conversation. We hope you and your family can make it! The forecast is looking good so far!
Last week’s heat wave took us by surprise! A couple plantings of broccoli and several varieties that are all supposed to come ready at different times all matured at once. Broccoli also doesn’t do well in heat and we lost a lot to yellowing. At first it was very disappointing and we wondered what we could have done differently but this past weekend we had the chance to talk to several Ohio farmers who all had problems with their broccoli. One farmer only harvested 40% of his planting. It’s always a great time when we hang out with farmers. We can relate to each other on a level we don’t share we anyone else. We talk shop and learn a lot. We end up laughing about our struggles through the season. Mostly we learn that the hardships that come with trying to grow beautiful crops are a shared experience with other vegetable farmers.
We wonder how climate change will effect these challenges and imagine our jobs will only get harder. This past heat wave’s reach was from Minnesota to Maine and shattered previous records. The last time Chicago had 7 consecutive days over 90 was in 1988 in the middle of summer. In addition the warmer than usual temperatures, it is also very dry. The good news is that we are late enough in the season that we are down to harvesting from 3 fields. It’s easier to stay on top of irrigating with less fields to manage. We are hoping for some rain for cover crop seeds to germinate and for ease of harvesting some of our root crops like sweet potatoes. We shall see what this week brings!
Ida Red and Jonathon (these are very similar looking apples but the Ida Red is larger, tarter and crisper)
Save the Date!
Our CSA member potluck will be Sunday Oct. 8 from 4 to 7. Members are asked to bring a dish to share and after touring the farm and fields, we will feast! It’s a celebration of the season and a time of good food and conversation. We hope you and your family can make it!
Last week I responded to a series of articles written by The Washington Post investigating organic food. This is part 11 of that so go back a week if you haven’t read Part 1 yet.
The organic label is definitely threatened- specifically in the organic row crop and livestock industries. At a sustainable farming conference I attended last winter I was saddened to hear from Ohio organic row crop farmers that they couldn’t complete with the price of organic imports which had the price dropping by as much as a third. As was long suspected by the farmers, turns out the beans and corn coming in weren’t even organic. The Postexamined 3 shipments of millions of pounds of “organic” beans and corn imports and found the shipments to be fraudulent. In July The Post reported that the USDA revoked the organic certification status of two companies involved in “organic” imports. And just last week The Post reported that the USDA’s Office of Inspector General newly released audit indicates concern about the lack of enforcement of the organic label at US ports. The news reports as well as pressure from small farmer and consumer watchdog groups have lead to results. The USDA has admitted a problem and there has been a hearing of the Senate agriculture committee on the matter. I am hopeful fraudulent imports are caught right way in the future and our organic grain growers can get a fair price again.
But foreign players in the game aren’t the only threat to organics. Some incredibly large domestic livestock operations have been outrageously interpreting organic rules and not following the spirit of the law. For example, organic production requires that animals have access to the outdoors and some farms think a tiny concreted over porch meets this rule. Fortunately, the National Organic Standards Board looked into the problem, decided clearer language was necessary and recommend a new animal welfare standards rule. These regulations set forth minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements. Outdoor access is more clearly defined ensuring that all organic animals live in pasture-based systems and animal welfare practices are clarified. Small farmers and consumer groups fought hard for YEARS for the livestock rule to keep the integrity of organics strong. Most organic farmers were already doing these things and most organic consumers think that’s what they’re getting. Sadly, the rule is currently in limbo. It was to go in effect in March but President Trump’s executive order that put a freeze on all new regulations halted the implementation. Now the rule has been delayed until Nov. 14 at which point a decision on wether to implement the rule or not will be made. There was a public comment period last spring (for the second time since public comments were taken back when the rule was just a proposal). I have my fingers crossed that this very important rule- that clarifies and strengthens what organic production means- will go into effect.
As a vegetable farmer these particular cases threatening the organic label don’t necessarily apply to our specific operation. I want to be clear that I stand by the organic label and am proud of our organic status and the hard work farmers before me did to build the National Organic Program. The certification process has always been thorough and rigorous and I still think it’s the gold standard. I also want to be clear that I have nothing against farms being larger than mine and think it’s great if an organic operation can expand its reach to more consumers. I’ve always wanted organic food to reach more households and be affordable. And I think it can without farms practicing grossly inadequate interpretations of the rules. Less than 1% of farmland in the US is organic. There is so much potential! I just hope the label doesn’t get spoiled as the movement grows. I am grateful for farmer and consumer advocate groups that do the hard work they do.
If you are interested in this topic and want to keep up to speed, groups to check out include The Cornucopia Institute, The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s listserve for policy work, and the Young Farmers Coalition.
This spring and summer the Washington Post has had several investigative reports on organic farming specifically questioning the trustworthiness of the label (just google “Washington Post organic series” and the whole slew of articles show up). As an organic farmer I find this reporting important and useful- but I also can’t help but take it personally- because I know we farm with integrity. As organic has become more popular, big names want to get in on the game. The WashingtonPost articles mostly reviewed much larger farms whose goals for being organic aren’t necessarily aligned with mine. I’ve been wanting to respond to the series as I found it frustrating that the little guys were smeared by the blanket attitude of the Post. At the same time, I do feel that the integrity of the organic label is crucial for consumer confidence and do see it threatened by profit driven cheaters jumping in.
Before I get into what I see as real problems to the organic label, I want to bring up what the Post got wrong. In an article “Why your ‘organic’ milk may not be organic,” The Post claims that organic farmers get to choose their inspector. The truth is we choose the certifying agency, but we do not know who they will send to inspect the farm. The third party audit that does happen is definitely not farmers “choosing their inspector.” The certification agency assigns an inspector who must not have a conflict of interest. Furthermore, at least 2 more individuals, who also must not have a conflict of interest, review the application for certification before it is excepted or rejected. Certifying agencies are audited by the USDA to ensure they are properly enforcing the National Organic Program standards. We get certified by The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, an organization that has promoted and supported sustainable farming since 1979. OEFFA is a tireless advocate for a strong organic label on behalf of consumers and small producers. Their education and policy work speaks to the organization’s integrity.
Perhaps there are certifying agencies not doing their job, and hopefully the USDA’s regular auditing process will weed any bad actors out. But I did feel the Post’s explanation of how the certification process works was very misleading and wanted to share my thoughts. In next week’s blog I will talk about current threats to organics. These issues were brought up by the Post. I already new about them from my organic farming community but was glad to see them getting national press. Hopefully public awareness and pressure can keep organics strong! Stay tuned for next week’s post on organic imports and proposed rule changes in regards to animal welfare.
The thing about having one of our CSA delivery days be Tuesday is that we never get a Monday off. Every year the summertime holidays of Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day are a loaded day of CSA harvest, and if we’re lucky, some left over time to tend to crops. Every year our crew works through these holidays and we are incredibly grateful! This past Labor Day was no exception. We finished the CSA harvest and then hand weeded our fall carrot crop- such an important job to cross off the to do list.
This year we had several part time workers in the summer months who have now gone back to school. We currently have 3 full time employees with us. This week I’ll spotlight Erin, who joined the farm in July. She is in charge of the “Packing Shed” or where all the produce comes in to be weighed, washed, sorted, etc. and stored. She’s often knee deep in bins and vegetables with the power washer and bulk tanks ready to go!
When Erin isn’t washing vegetables, she is packing CSA boxes, cleaning harvest bins, sorting onions, and on and on. We hear a lot how long lasting our produce is, and a lot of that self-life comes from quickly and correctly processing the vegetables. We also hear how clean our vegetables are — often surprising customers that the produce is actually ours. The magic all happens in the packing shed!
Erin contacted us at the perfect time as our packing shed manager from last year, David, was getting ready to start a new career as a middle school science teacher. She and David worked together for 2 weeks and then Erin was on her own! August is really not an ideal time for Ben and myself to train new people, so after David left Erin was pretty much on her own and given little instruction. She has done awesome and we are thrilled!
When Erin is not at Mile Creek Farm, she is taking care of her 12 cats and 2 dogs with her husband, Luis. She and her husband also started a band together, Team Void, and are busy performing, recording and creating art for it. (Luis has been involved in the Dayton music scene since the 90s). Team Void is an instrumental band with its very own unique sound, Lucha rock, inspired by lucha libre, the very popular Mexican “free fight” wrestling. The band members wear masks, just like the luchadors (wrestlers), and the band members become characters on stage. From their website they are “3 dead luchas cursed to rock the living”.
And in fact we were lucky to be rocked by Team Void at Dayton’s LadyFest a few weekends ago. Erin and company played a great set and we enjoyed an evening away from the farm! I recommend you check them out at an upcoming show if you can–Halloween is a favorite time for the band to perform!
Farming has its ups and downs and last week we experienced a down. We brought in our winter squash harvest and our 1/2 acre planting was close to a total bust. We think CSA will get a week of acorn, delicata and butternut but that’s it. No pie pumpkins or kabocha, no gorgeous 7 lb butternuts like last year. No squash for market or extended season boxes. Between disease and bugs, yields and quality were way down this year. The proper work was certainly put in– a day of planting, several rounds of weeding, fertilizing through the drip irrigation, and we even tried organic controls on the bugs.
We think the source of the problem was an overwintering population of the squash bugs and we have ideas on how to combat them for next year! We are also thinking about starting the squash earlier in hopes of beating the disease. And while this may not be a good winter squash year, the farm is still pumping out a lot of produce- like the melons we’ve been distributing the past couple weeks and this week’s huge bok choy! We hope you enjoy the current bounty and savor the winter squash when it does makes its appearance.