Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What's New at the Farm for 2018?

Farm Update

In one of our coldframes, spinach is overwintering so it will
be available sooner than normal.  It is insulated from the cold
and protected from the wind, and the spinach under the plastic
low tunnel (at right) has an additional layer of insulation.
Hi everyone!  The weather is starting to turn, and although the temperature doesn’t reflect it yet, spring is around the corner!  We’ve noticed that the winter grayness has faded away in the last few days and the sun is out, cheerful and bright, a sure sign that spring is thinking about making an appearance in the not-too-distant future.  There isn’t much growing at the farm right now, but there is plenty of activity, as Fred is deconstructing our old packing area in preparation for the new barn that will be going up in a few weeks!  It’s a pretty big job, but the barn and packing area will make pretty much everything this summer more efficient.   We also had the chance to get away for a couple days in January to speak at the Northern Michigan Small Farms Conference in Traverse City!  We had so much fun with our presentation, and as the conference is pretty much the social event of the season for small farmers, we always get to catch up with a bunch of our friends as well as learn new things.  It has been both a productive and a relaxing off-season, and pretty soon, we’ll be right back into the swing of things at the farm.  But in the meantime, I’m planning to thoroughly enjoy the rest of our winter break!

What's New at the Farm for 2018?

Our old makeshift packing area (which was never pretty at the
best of times, and looks downright dreary in the winter) is going
by the wayside in favor of a beautiful new barn!
Each year the farm looks a little different than it did the year before.  The beginning of the 2017 season saw two new coldframes and a deer fence that weren’t there at the close of the 2016 season, and virtually every year we get a few new (old) pieces of small farm equipment and maybe even some infrastructure.  But this year we are investing very heavily into the farm in several ways that should make it easier to serve all our customers and make it a better, more efficient place to work.  The first big change is that after renting our land for the last seven years, we are finally purchasing the property!  This is kind of a huge deal for us, and it will allow us to make some more permanent infrastructure changes to the farm.  With the land purchase we are also acquiring an additional 5-6 acres of growing space, which is a dramatic increase in our growing area.  Now we’ll be able to grow more crops for winter storage (such as carrots and potatoes), and just more in general.  We’ll also now have enough acreage to not use our current ground so aggressively, and allow for more soil building cover crops in the crop rotations.  And for all of you who have asked about it, you’ll be excited to hear that we’re finally adding asparagus to our cast of fruit and veggie characters!  We haven’t had enough land to justify it until now, but the asparagus will be going into the ground this year.  Because it takes two or three years to become established, we won’t have it in the shares this year, but we’re laying the foundations now for a lovely harvest of asparagus in 2020.

Now that we have ownership of the land, and there will be a significant increase in the amount of produce to wash and pack, we are finally addressing another major bottleneck of the farm: the packing area.  We put up our current packing area six years ago in a few hurried days and on a shoestring budget.  It was originally meant to accommodate three people and about a third of the produce we currently go through, and the limited capacity and lack of space made washing and packing all those veggies extremely inefficient and frustrating last season.  Now with the increased production we have planned, we know it will never accommodate what we’ll have this season.  So we’re putting up a much needed, long awaited barn!  The new building will be a 30x60 pole barn that will hold our packing area, a storage area, and a more permanent bathroom (as opposed to the portajohn we’ve been using for the last few years).  Since it is enclosed and out of the elements, it will also allow us to wash and pack in all four seasons, instead of just the three we’ve previously been able to stand.  So now we’ll be able to keep up some level of winter production as well, between the storage crops (such as carrots and potatoes) and some coldhardy greens in the coldframes.  I could go on and on about our further plans for this building, but in short, it will enable us to offer our veggies for a much longer portion of the year and allow us to be much more efficient in how we store, wash, and pack.

Some of the lumber for our barn has been delivered already,
and it's waiting to be used in construction in a few weeks.
Another change this year at the farm is that we are constructing another 30x72 coldframe (this will be our seventh one!) that we got on the cheap at an auction.  Since we now have so much hoophouse space, we can grow early tomatoes that should be a few weeks ahead of when you normally see them in your shares.  We are having another local organic grower help us start the plants from seed in his greenhouse since he has more experience in growing these early plants, and because he has more heated greenhouse space than he can use and we have the opposite problem.

So now that we will have veggies for more of the year, we’re considering doing an early spring CSA (starting in 2019) and a late fall CSA.  Don’t be surprised if you see our veggies in some of our local restaurants and stores for more of the year as well!  We are talking with a local farm that raises organic pastured meat, to develop a reciprocal program where people can pick up their meat at our drop-offs, and their customers could also pick up our veggie shares from them.  Collectively we would be able to give our customers better and easier access to truly good local food without everyone involved having to do a lot of extra driving.  We are still working out the details, and it definitely isn't set in stone, but we hope to get this plan off the ground soon.

Most of these changes take money (a significant amount of it), and we are grateful to the many CSA members, restaurants, stores, and other partners who have made this possible and given us the confidence to invest heavily in the farm.  We hope you will be a part of this big season of change along with us and that we will be better able to serve you and our local community well into the future!


February is a tricky month for the locavore in Michigan, because the variety of locally sourced produce has often dwindled down to some stored root veggies, the herbs on your windowsill, and whatever hearty greens are coming out of your local farmers' coldframes.  But never fear!  This recipe for Winter Spinach Potato Casserole makes the most of exactly those things, and will warm you up after being outside in the cold February chill!