Tag Archives: crops

Sissy Farmer? I don’t think so…

Stumbling through my news reader I came across a reference and a video of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I have been aware of the work Joel is doing for a while. His success with Polyface is an inspiration that will become more important as we go forward in the coming years.

The following video isn’t the one that started this muse…The one that started the muse can be found here: Wayfaring Wanderer: Brighter Days Ahead.

Here is the biographical info from the Polyface, Inc website…

Joel Salatin, 50, is a fulltime farmer in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A third generation alternative farmer, he returned to the farm fulltime in 1982 and continued refining and adding to his parents’ ideas.

The farm services more than 1,500 families, 10 retail outlets, and 30 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs with salad bar beef, pastured poultry, eggmobile eggs, pigaerator pork, forage-based rabbits, pastured turkey and forestry products using relationship marketing.

He holds a BA degree in English and writes extensively in magazines such as STOCKMAN GRASS FARMER, ACRES USA, and AMERICAN AGRICULTURALIST.

The family’s farm, Polyface Inc. (“The Farm of Many Faces”) has been featured in SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, GOURMET and countless other radio,television and print media. Profiled on the Lives of the 21st Century series with Peter Jennings on ABC World News, his after-broadcast chat room fielded more hits than any other segment to date. It achieved iconic status as the grass farm featured in the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA by food writer guru Michael Pollan.

via Polyface, Inc..

This past fall Fred First was in on a tour of the farm with a group from the Society of Environmental Journalists. His writeup of the trip starts this way…

None its “many faces” are very showy. As a matter of fact, from the ground or the air, nothing seems all that different about this plateaued 550 acres of Central Virginia valley farmland near the community of Middlebrook.

To the casual observer, it may seem just so much pasture and woods and soil and the occasional outbuilding. But Polyface Farm represents an innovative “foodshed” (think watershed) from which food products flow, grown from the ground up–which seems only reasonable for a farm, after all–from earthworms to pastured chickens and rabbits and cattle, as if the earth really mattered.

Every element of the process holds an elevated status there. Soil is more than just dirt there, and as Joel Salatin says, his farm honors the “pigness of the pig.”

via Polyface Part II | Fragments From Floyd.

Take a few minutes and follow the links and find out what real sustainable agriculture can be…

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Kitchen Gardeners International

Dear Kitchen Gardener,

What’s a home garden worth? With the global economy spiraling downward and Mother Nature preparing to reach upward, it’s a good question to ask and a good time to ask it.

There isn’t one right answer, of course, but I’ll give you mine: $2149.15. Last year, my wife Jacqueline suggested to me that we calculate the total value of the produce coming out of our garden over the course of the growing season. Initially, the thought of doing that was about as appealing to me as a recreational root canal. I remember replying something like: “OK, so let me get this right: in addition to raising three busy boys, managing two careers, volunteering in a school garden, and growing most of our own produce, you’re proposing that we weigh every item that comes out of our garden, write it down in a log book, and spend a few leisurely evenings doing math?” Jacqueline, an economics major in college and a native French speaker, answered with a simple “oui” and so the project began.

There was a lot of work involved, mostly for Jacqueline, but as with gardening itself, it was work with a purpose. It didn’t take long for our log book to start filling up with dates and figures. Although we started eating our first garden salads in late April, we only began recording our harvests as of May 10th, starting first with greens and asparagus. Our last weighable harvest was two weeks ago in the form of a final cutting of Belgian endives forced from roots in our basement.

By the time we had finished weighing it all, we had grown 834 pounds and over six months worth of organic food (we’re still eating our own winter squash, onions, garlic, and frozen items like strawberries, green beans, and pesto cubes). Once we had the weights of the 35 main crops we grew, we then calculated what it would have cost us to buy the same items using three different sets of prices: conventional grocery store, farmers’ market and organic grocery store (Whole Foods, in our case). The total value came to $2196.50, $2431.15, and $2548.93 respectively. For the other economics majors and number crunchers among you, you can see our crunchy, raw data here.

There are things we didn’t include like the wild dandelion greens which we reaped but did not sow, the six or so carving pumpkins which we ultimately fed to our compost pile, and the countless snacks of strawberries, beans, peas, and tomatoes that never made it as far as our kitchen scale. There were also things we forgot to weigh like several pounds of grapes which turned into about 12 jars of jam. As with any growing season, there were hits and misses. The heaviest and most valuable crop was our tomatoes (158 lb/72 kg for a total value of $524). In terms of misses, our apple tree decided to take the year off and very few of our onions started from seed made it requiring me to buy some onion plants.

On the cost side, we had $130 for seeds and supplies, $12 for a soil test, and exceptional costs of $100 for some locally-made organic compost we bought for our “This Lawn is Your Lawn” frontyard garden (normally, we meet most of our soil fertility needs through our own composting). I don’t have a scientific calculation for water costs, but we don’t need to water much and, when we do, water is relatively cheap in Maine. Also, I mulch my beds pretty heavily to keep moisture in and weeds down.  Let’s say $40 in water.  So, if we consider that our out-of-pocket costs were $282 and the total value generated was $2431, that means we had a return on investment of 862%. The cost of our labor is not included because we enjoy gardening and the physical work involved. If I am to include my labor costs, I feel I should also include the gym membership fees, country club dues, or doctors’ bills I didn’t have.

If you really want to play around with the data, you can calculate how much a home garden like ours produces on a per acre basis. If you use the $2400 figure and consider that our garden is roughly 1/25th of an acre, it means that home gardens like ours can gross $60,000/acre. You can also calculate it on a square foot basis which in our case works out to be roughly $1.50/ft2. That would mean that a smaller garden of say 400ft2 would produce $600 of produce. Keep in mind that these are averages and that certain crops are more profitable and space efficient than others. A small garden planted primarily with salad greens and trellised tomatoes, for example, is going to produce more economic value per square foot more than one planted with potatoes and squash. We plant a bit of everything because that’s the way we like to garden and eat.

Clearly, this data is just for one family (of five), one yard (.3 acre), one garden (roughly 1600 square feet), and one climate (Maine, zone 5b/6), but it gives you some sense of what’s possible. If you consider that there are about 90 million households in the US that have some sort of yard, factor in the thousands of new community and school gardens we could be planting, this really could add up. Our savings allowed us to do different things including investing in some weatherization work for our house last fall that is making us a greener household in another way. Some might ask what this would mean for farmers to have more people growing their own food. The local farmers I know welcome it because they correctly believe that the more people discover what fresh, real food tastes like, the more they’ll want to taste. In our case, part of our savings helped us to buy better quality, sustainably-raised meat from a local CSA farmer.

The economics of home gardening may not be enough to convince President Obama or UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown to plant new gardens at the White House or 10 Downing Street, but the healthy savings their citizens could be making and then reinvesting in their local economies could.

In the end, it might come down to the language we use. Instead of saying “Honey, I’m going out to the garden to turn the compost pile”, perhaps we should say “Honey, I’m going outside to do a ‘green job’ and work on our ‘organic stimulus package.’”  I bet that would get the attention of a few economists, not mention a few psychologists!

Happy, healthy March,

Roger Doiron

Kitchen Gardeners International

Is it really “Victory Garden” Time?

My reading on the web keeps coming across a common thread…It’s that over and over in blog posts and comments people are talking about buying seeds and starting to raise vegetables again. It looks like I’m not the only one making the connection. Here is what Verlyn Klinkenborg had to say today.

In August 2004, I wrote a Rural Life editorial about the victory garden movement during World War II, noting that a national crisis had turned Americans — for a few years at least— into a nation of gardeners. Now we are in the midst of another crisis. And perhaps this is the moment for another national home gardening movement, a time when the burgeoning taste for local food converges with the desire to cut costs and take new control over our battered economic lives.

There are signs that some people are already thinking this way. A number of friends have said to me, wistfully, that if things get worse, they’ll just go to the country and learn to farm, as if learning to farm were like studying shorthand or learning to weld.(1)

I started making sure I was set up to receive this years seed catalogs back in November and December. They have been coming in for a month now. I have been spending some of my evening time checking out the heirloom vegetables with an eye toward being able to save seed after harvest. I was even picking up some packets of  greens and herbs as we wandered through the Wally Box this past weekend.

With our weather being so unseasonably warm, I probably should already have some of these things in the ground. Hard to believe I’m worried about being late in planting and it just a few days past Valentines…

As Patry Francis put it in her blog yesterday…

I believe the way we live our lives is going to change–maybe in small, temporary ways, but more likely, the transformation will test us in ways we’ve never been tried before.

I believe that almost nothing is all bad or all good and I don’t say that glibly. I believe that sometimes, the deeper you have to dig to find the bliss, the stronger you grow. I believe that we’ll stop being consumers, and start becoming citizens; that one day soon, we’ll walk outside and see, really see the neighbors we’ve been ignoring all these years. I believe that we’ll plant more vegetables and less grass. And yes, I believe that absent more expensive entertainment, people will READ more.(2)

“Plant more vegetables and less grass”, what a concept. If you haven’t visited Patry’s blog, take a bit of time, wander over and welcome her back to the blogosphere. Her storytelling is excellent.

Speaking of grass, I’ve been reading Editorial – Editorial Notebook – Sow Those Seeds! – NYTimes.com‘s Second Nature and Chapter 3, where he asks the question “Why Mow?” left me wondering if humans haven’t been bred to perpetrate the continuing dominance of grass.

One of the things that is worrying me is the lack of rainfall in my area. It was that very reason that I quit planting a vegetable garden a few years back…After planting and not harvesting much besides weeds for about three years, I called it quits. It looks like it’s time to give it another try though. I do think I’ll do two things though. First I’m going to move the location of the garden closer to the water spigot. Second I need to track down some form of water storage and fix a means of catching at least some of the rain that runs off the roof.

The drough here in Texas even made the international news last week…

The worst drought in nearly 100 years is racking three-quarters of Texas. Much of the state has not had a significant rainfall since August. Winter wheat crops have failed. Ponds have dried up. Ranchers are spending heavily on hay and feed pellets to get their cattle through the winter. Some wonder if they will have to slaughter their herds come summer. Farmers say the soil is too dry for seeds to germinate and are considering not planting.

“The last time we had a drought this bad was in January 1918,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist. “The droughts in the 1950s in individual years were not as bad as this.” Nielsen-Gammon, a professor at Texas A&M, said the weather had been unusually dry for the last year and a half, but since August, much of the central part of the state — a broad swath from just south of Dallas, through Austin and San Antonio and down to Corpus Christi — had gotten little or no rain. Even last year’s hurricanes, Dolly and Ike, did not help, he said.

Though about a half-inch of rain fell in Austin and Dallas this week, it was not enough to offset the 20-inch deficit in rainfall over the last 18 months, he said.(3)

Maybe I should look at updating the old well here on the property. We quit using it a decade or so ago when the city forced us to hook up to city water. Since no one in the family would drink the well water except me, it only made sense to let it go.

(1) via SIMPLY WAIT – A DEPRESSING SUBJECT?.

(2) via SIMPLY WAIT – A DEPRESSING SUBJECT?.

(3) via Farmers and ranchers wonder what’s next as drought scrapes Texas – International Herald Tribune.

Potatoes…Not As Bad As You Might Believe

I grew up reading  Jeff Cox in Organic Gardening & Farming (or vice versa depending on the year). I was happy to find him at the OrganicToBe.org blog. His article on potatoes not only fills in the history of the tuber but also gives recipes. He sure makes me feel better about my love of potatoes in any form…

Potatoes have kept whole cultures alive. Not only the Incas, who first cultivated the tuber, but (after potatoes reached Europe in the 16th century) also many countries in the northern parts of Europe. Potatoes were a staple of the Irish, at least until a bacterial blight decimated the Emerald Isle’s crops in the mid- to late-1840s, causing starvation and necessitating emigration.

via Organic Recipes Blog, Organic Food, Small Organic Garden Farms, Edible Landscapes – OrganicToBe.org » Blog Archive » All About Potatoes (with Organic Recipes).

  • Cheap, Healthy Food Through Vegetable Gardening Information (backyardgardeningtips.com)
  • Introduction to Organic Food (articlesbase.com)
  • Why Organic Food is Must for Humans (articlesbase.com)