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Archive for the ‘2010’ Category

Time flies when you’re having fun!

Six months later, I’m a better man.

  • Fit Farmer. I lost 10 pounds, recovered from farm-induced tendinitis, heavy boxes feel light, and I’m not exhausted at the end of the day.
  • Planting Machine. I can plant 100 plants in a row by hand, look back and have them line up like soldiers.
  • Happy and Dirty. I’m at peace with the soil under my nails.
  • Rock Demolisher. Okay,  I still can’t destroy the many rocks in our soil, but I can dream… and live with them.
  • Master Pimp. I know my hoes and can handle a hula hoe, hand hoe and eye hoe.
  • Turkey Janitor. I’ve cleaned up cute little chick poop and massive 32-pound gobbler poop.
  • Tomato Wrangler. I can weave a mean trellis and deliver a bruise-free two-pound heirloom tomato.
  • Agricultural Tourist. I’ve visited twenty different farms and seen twenty different ways to grow the same veggie.
  • Vendor Extraordinaire. Can I sell you my new favorite pepper, the awesome Jimmy Nardelo?
  • Weed Lover. Who am I kidding, I still hate ‘em.

Of course, what I’ll miss the most are the everyday farm activities with the crew: Sean, Sara and Genevieve.

Don’t cry for us Zenger Farm!
The truth is we’ll never leave you
All through the rainy days
Our mad harvesting
We kept on weeding
Don’t stop educating

Thank you for an awesome 2010 apprenticeship!

-Bryan Allan

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October At The Farm

Hello Farm Followers!

Sadly, this post marks my last as a Zenger apprentice, but on the upside, October has been so glorious that there is much to report on!

Today is a good place to start, as this morning was devoted solely to the mass harvest of all the winter squash that have been sizing and ripening up all summer long. Pruners were used for the smaller squash, but the loppers got brought out for some of the biggin’s. We piled the squash together in the fields, and with the help of a school group tour, arranged a line of volunteers and tossed the squash up to the truck bed like sandbags or sacks of flour. Very efficient method. The loads were then brought to the greenhouse and are now stacked beautifully on table tops to cure before going into storage for the winter. There were a few damaged ones, as can be expected, but these can simply be sold for use immediately. Yum!

Also in the greenhouse, are onions and popcorn that volunteers have been helping us pull out of the fields. The popcorn must dry completely before it can be twisted off the cob and stored away for popping. Again, our volunteers will come in handy, as the twisting of kernals off the cob makes for an excellent winter activity when the weather turns more sour.

But since the weather is still grand, there are plenty of veggies still growing in the fields. Bellow, you can see our brassicas enjoying the summer afternoon weather, and the leeks coming out of the ground have beautiful white stalks and are just begging to be steamed of simmered in winter soups. We’ll have brassicas, leeks and more at this Sunday’s Lents Farmer’s Market, and since it’s the last of the season, be sure to come out and support your local farmers so they can come back again next year!

To finish, I’ll give you an update on our turkeys, who’ve been quite the superstars of the farm this year. We’ve less than a week now before they go in to meet their maker (and before they meet your Thanksgiving table). As a special treat, we moved their outdoor playpen into the empty winter squash field, and below you can see them happily exploring new territory. But fear not, the chickens are not getting the short end of the stick here. Tomorrow we will be moving their coop into the other greenhouse, nicknamed the “melon house” because this was where the melons were planted this year. With the melons all being past due, the melon house was set up to receive the chickens tomorrow, and the chickens were treated to a few of the overripe melons to give them a taste of what’s to come. For anyone who owns a chicken, melons are clearly their favorite treat, so we can only imagine how happy they’ll be.

Well, I think that’s it. Still lots to be done before the three of us say goodbye, so keep checking in, and thanks to everyone at Zenger farm for a truly amazing experience!

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Why is food so inexpensive?

I had a little revelation when I sat down with my niece and nephew to watch I Love Lucy. In the later seasons, Lucy and Ricky move to the country and decide to earn some extra income raising chickens and selling eggs. Lucy went through the financials with Ricky to justify her idea, “We can sell our eggs for seventy-five cents a dozen!”

Wait a minute, $ 0.75/dozen?!?!? I can get a dozen eggs at Winco for less than $1.50! Inflation has been well more than a factor of two since the 1950’s! What’s going on here!

Lucy gets 500 chicks in the mail.

Well, later in the episode Ethel complained about Fred, ever frugal, who wouldn’t “waste three cents on a stamp.” Postage basically matches inflation and the cost to mail a letter has increased by a factor of fourteen! So based on my quick math, if the price of eggs matched inflation Lucy’s eggs today would cost $10.50!

Of course, by today’s standards, Lucy’s eggs would be organic, free-range, and local. After speaking with other farmers in the area, I know that the profit margin is razor thin on organic, local, free-range eggs. And that is completely understandable after watching I Love Lucy, considering that the price at farmer’s markets ranges from $5.00 to $7.00/dozen. How can we expect our small family farmers to survive when we pay so little for our food?

Americans spend less than 10% of their income on food today, but in the 1950’s, we spent 30% of our income on food.

Cheap food is a mixed blessing. The benefits are huge. It raises the standard of living for those who have less income. Cheaper food allows people to spend more time bettering themselves, raising their education level, providing a more skilled workforce, etc. Really, the snowball effect is huge.

This is not what Lucy had in mind!

The dark side is the increasing industrialization of our food.  Fossil fuels are cheap right now, but they pollute. Less labor is needed when chickens are in tiny cages in warehouses, but, as we saw recently, eggs can be contaminated with salmonella. There are many more downsides, animal welfare, labor abuses, health concerns, environmental effects, and on and on.

I want to leave you with two thoughts.

  • When you go to a market, don’t ask yourself why the market food costs more than the factory food from Winco and Freddie’s, ask yourself how can this small farmer sell his food at historically dirt cheap prices and survive ?
  • When our fossil fuels run low, and factory farming becomes too expensive, are there going to be any small farmers left to feed us?

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Moving the Turkeys…

The turkeys have a new home! After two of the turkeys went missing and one was found dead outside of the coop, it was necessary for us to give them a more secure place to call home at night. We’re not sure if the turkey kidnapper/killer is a raccoon or a coyote or some other type of critter, but we noticed week or so back that some of them were roosting outside of the barn at night. Some would go on top of the coop or even on top of the barn, most likely to keep at a safe distance from whatever has been hunting them. Just yesterday and this morning we have converted the back of the barn, from dungeonous storage area overrun with rusty things, to a sparkly new turkey house! The turkeys will be spending the months of October and November safe and tucked away in the barn. And hopefully we won’t have to show up to work and find dead turkeys laying around anymore, which obviously is never a fun sight.

By the way, the turkeys are getting just plain huge, some have weighed in at upwards of 30 pounds, which is pretty big, especially compared to last year’s flock. The males actually scare me sometimes when they come around a corner or something and they’re all big and puffed up. For those of you who haven’t seen this phenomenon, once male turkeys reach puberty they try to get the attention of the female turkeys of course. They do this by puffing out they’re feathers and waddling around very slowly. It looks weird, I’m not going to sit here and lie to you. But I suppose it is kind of cool how they strut their stuff for the ladies. Here’s what it looks like…

Anyhow, I must get back to my farm crew, we’re busy putting in a strawberry patch. See you guys next week!

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With the recent cool and rainy weather, it is clear that fall is upon us. While we are still harvesting several summer crops out of the fields, many of the winter crops are going up on the to-do list, and with the end of our apprenticeship approaching in October, this week for me has been one of reflection. With the end in site, it thus seems appropriate to begin looking back on the skills learned thus far, folding them deeper into memory and preparing the mind for the end of this adventure. Perhaps it’s not unlike the way a farmer reflects on the growing year, prepares the fields for the coming winter, and takes time to make notes on what has transpired. This in mind, I’ve pulled a list together for this week’s post, on what skills I think it takes to be a farm apprentice. I know there are a lot of people out there who are thinking of becoming farmers in the face of issues of food security and the great mass exodus that we are seeing in the realm of large-scale agriculture. Without the benefit family wisdom to be passed down through the generations, many of these new farmers are roughing it out there in the fields like we’ve  been this year. My hope is that this list will at least provide you with one perspective as you head out into the brave and new (more like reinvigorated) world of growing food.

What It Takes to Be a Farm Apprentice:

(or rather, what I think can make or break your apprentice experience)

Focus/Organization:

Focus and organization I have put together because to me, they feed into each other. I have seen first hand, how distracting a working farm can be. For you not to become distracted would require a shut down of all senses, as there is literally always something to do on a farm. Without focus for example, it is easy to be weeding basil and be so distracted by tomato plants at the perfect growing stage for their first pruning, that without even a thought, you find yourself methodically pulling off root suckers before you realize what has happened. Focus is what keeps you on task, and allows you to bang out all those necessary tasks that seem like they run right off the edge of your to-do list. Organization, is the to-do list that keeps you from running right off the edge of your sanity when you begin to get the feeling you can never keep up with everything that can be accomplished. They are a necessary pairing of skills, and even at a farm as small as Zenger, it has become very apparent why we spend a significant amount of time creating, prioritizing, and checking in with our to-do lists. Without them, we spend too much time fumbling over what to do next, and too little time enjoying the feeling of satisfaction with every check in the box.

Speed:

Perhaps it is dangerous to recommend speed as a skill set to a new farmer. We all know what happens when you teach an eager new driver where the gas pedal is, and we don’t want anyone getting hurt on their first day at the farm. But that aside, speed is still something we all strive for, whether we are new or well seasoned by experience. Watching Sara rip through a bed of [fill in the blank], thinning and weeding in the rage of dirt and ravaged foliage, continues to leave me with that apparent sense that I am just not fast enough. Granted, it feels instinctive to take your time at first and learn the difference between what is weed and what is friend, but I am still learning that unintended casualties are a natural part of the weeding process. Unless you have the pleasure of working land that is either weed-free or has been managed for undesirable plants in the past, you will spend a lot of time at this task, and the faster you are, the more you can get done. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

Flexibility:

Flexibility is made better by organization, which is why it appears farther down the list. As farmers, we must be flexible from day to day, hour to hour. There are innumerable variables at stake in the production of fresh organic food. We have discovered many of those variables, some with delight and many with dismay. Weather, pests, mechanical failures, leaks, and many other unintended happenings should not only be expected, but planned for as much as possible. As an apprentice, you may not bear the burden of making these things right, but you will certainly learn to make the best of any situation and to have as many back-up plans as you can think of in case things go south. Because they will go south, and you will freak out. Sometimes you will have to tough it out, and other times you can simply pick yourself up and re-direct your energy elsewhere.

Self Awareness:

This may not seem like a necessary skill, but it will once you become familiar with all the aches and pains that come with hours of back-breaking work done in the outdoors. We are fortunate to have lots of fancy tools in our barn, but by far the most important tool we have is our bodies. As a farmer, you should plan to become very aware of your limits. You will have to push against many of these, but getting to know the way your body responds to hard work, will help you find the best way to take care of your most valuable tool. Of course, restful sleep and lots of good food is a good start. Working at an organic farm usually makes that second part easy and enjoyable. But also be aware of your mental needs and your immune system. Sick days and “burnouts” are time lost and won’t be acceptable when you someday commit to a full time farming gig. Take care of yourself and listen to your body. Done well, it will allow you to gain the strength and agility you’ll need to keep up will all  that you’ll be learning.

An Open Mind:

This last one’s a quick one, but simply said, keep an open mind. Even if you come into a farming apprenticeship with some growing experience, prepare to do the unexpected. Organic food production, though not a new idea, has suffered from years of lost knowledge about the best ways to care for plants and soil (while still yielding enough to pay the bills). As such, there are still a lot of debates over best practices and preferred responses to plant and pest problems. As a farm apprentice, it’s understandable that you’ll be gaining a lot of new knowledge and experience, but do not forget to keep an open mind beyond what you hear told to you. Make connections in the field between what you do and what results from that action. Take lots of mental notes, and sneak in some zone-out time to let it all sink in. You will realize a lot of important things during your experience, and you should prepare your mind for those things from the very beginning. Realize too, that every growing year is different, which is why you’ll need to stay flexible when it comes to applying what you’ve learned in the future.

So that makes five, a nice non-even number. But I know there are many more to add to this list, which is why there is a comment section! If you have any personal advice you’d like to pass on to the Zenger apprentices this year, or to other someday farmers coming across this blog, please feel free to leave a comment below and keep the wisdom flowing.

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No Weeds – the Music Video

This week, I wanted to share the altered lyrics for a music video I’ve yet to produce, entitled “No Weeds.”

Follow the altered lyrics below:

.



(Lyrics by Bryan Allan)

A weed is a guy that thinks he’s sly
And is also known as a nuisance
Always blockin’ out my crop’s sunlight
And just steals the nutrients
So (no)

I don’t want your number (no)
I don’t wanna give you mine and (no)
I don’t wanna meet you nowhere (no)
I don’t want none of your time and (no)

Chorus:
I don’t want no weed
A weed is a guy that can’t get no love from me
Making me get out the hoes
To keep my perfect rows
Trying to steal my time
I don’t want no weed
A weed is a guy that can’t get no love from me
Making me get out the hoes
To keep my perfect rows
Trying to steal my time

There’s a weed’s checking me
But his game is kinda weak
And I know that he cannot outgrow me
Cuz I’m lookin’ like class and he’s looking like trash
And I’ll pull out his deadbeat (umm, roots?)
So (no)

I don’t want your number (no)
No I don’t wanna give you mine and (no)
I don’t wanna meet you nowhere (no)
I don’t want none of your time (no)

Chorus

If you don’t bear fruit and you’re growing
Oh yes son I’m talking to you
If you live at home with my crops
Oh yes son I’m talking to you
If you have a flower and spread seed
Oh yes son I’m talking to you
Wanna get with me with no veggies
oh no I don’t want no (oh)

No weed
No weed (no no)
No weed (no no no no)
No weed (no no)

Chorus (until fade)

Pig weed, a common weed on the farm.

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More Turkey Talk…

Okay, it’s time to get brutally honest here. I can’t wait to eat the turkeys. If you read back to my blogs from earlier in the season, I really genuinely loved and cared deeply for the turkeys at one point. I took pleasure in feeding them, cleaning out their coop and making it nice and cozy for them. Hell, I even cleaned out their butt holes with a tiny damp cloth. But that was when they were babies and all furry and cute and their poops were just tiny little specks that pretty much cleaned themselves… Nowadays the turkeys are kind of a pain in the ass. They poop all over; in their coop, on top of their coop, on each other, on my shoes… and this inevitably leads  to myself or one of the other apprentices cleaning up turkey poop. They also eat an astronomical amount of food, which we have to make multiple runs to Naomi’s (free advertising) every week to buy(not cheap). Then we have to back-breakingly mix their food with a soy based supplement that adds more protein to the mixture. Next we haul heavy buckets of their food down to them and fill up their feeders while they mindlessly peck away at our legs and thighs (which is ironic because eventually we’ll be pecking away at their legs and thighs). Oh, and I’m not even going to mention how many times I’ve been shocked by the turkey fence… not fun.

I mean, i do kind of feel bad writing this, I do love them and have many fond memories of them from their childhood, but let’s be real here… they ended up kind of dumb. They make the chickens look like spry, young philosophy majors from highly accredited universities.

Whoa, I just stopped to reread what I had just written and I guess I kind of vented, sorry if that came off super negatively but I guess I’m just ready for a nice turkey dinner with all the fixins…

is it November yet?

Anyhow, I gotta go mix food and tend to the turkeys some more… it’s almost November.

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