Saturday morning

Saturday mornings, for the last year and a half, have been off to market days for us.  Our little town has been blessed with the opportunity to build a thriving year round farmer’s and artisan’s market, and having somewhere to bring winter produce to sell during the off months of our CSA program is really great.  Growing food year round has been a fun and satisfying part of our farm adventure here in Oregon.  And for us especially, having moved from the much colder Midwest, being able to grow so much out in the open through the winter has been amazing.

Here in the Willamette Valley, there is so much that can be grown out of doors through the entire year.  Winter hardy greens top the list, but root crops like carrots, beets, turnips, and rutabagas can also stay in the ground and be harvested from through the winter, and the really fun stuff is the overwintering sprouting broccolis and cauliflowers that are such a treat come the end of the cold season.

The only hitch, for us at least, is the space winter growing requires.  To continue harvesting in the same quantity as we do for the rest of the year, we need to have winter vegetables in a lot more ground than we need for that amount in warmer months.  Since things aren’t growing at all for a good twelve weeks of that time and growing slowly for the rest of it, we have to plan differently.  With much of our usable growing space wet (albeit highly fertile) from December through May, we still haven’t been able to grow as much as we would like.

This year we were really excited to use the dry acreage we are leasing near town to grow more for winter, but are now equally disappointed because those vegetables attracted foraging deer who ended up eating everything we planted there–kales, radicchios, chicories, red mustards, chard, perpetual spinach, turnips.  They kindly left the arugula and green mustards, but being so far away from that space, it felt hard to protect those crops and we aren’t necessarily keen on putting up deer fencing over there right now.  Here at our place, even when we see some deer activity in the winter, we have the easy protection of our dog to keep them at bay.

And so, the winter growing part of our operation is still the part we still struggle with.  Many people are amazed that we have what we do at market but we know that we could have a lot more.  And people really, really love our winter greens.  Growing them out of doors in the cold produces the most wonderful flavor, and to be eating something so fresh and alive in the coldest months is awesome, we aren’t coming close to meeting the demand for them.  Even as we get ready to put up our first hoophouses on the farm, we don’t want that to be our main solution to having more to harvest for the winter market and ultimately, for a full season CSA too.

A puzzle we are working on–just as there are always are in the farming business–but one we feel we can solve.  That is part of what keeps us on our toes and ever humble in the work we do.

This morning, the sky was on fire, Mt. Hood so breathtaking in the sky against those colors.  It will be a beautiful market day.  We are heading out now with some delicious greens, thankful for what we do have and for yet another Saturday to visit with the community and continue “farming” year round.

This Week at Market: The Flavors of Spring

Spring it still is, even though today marks the start of our “summer” farmer’s market, the McMinnville Farmer’s Market.  Farmer’s growing in hoop houses or on black plastic can nudge the season ahead a bit, but with the long lasting springs we have been having last year and this, even our friends who use these growing tools more extensively than we do will most likely still be offering “spring” produce as we start the market season today.  Baby beets, large spring onions, turnips…these are crops a week or two away for us, but have been ready for the last month from other farm’s at our Saturday market.

Otherwise, the main crops that spring offers in abundance are greens, greens, and more greens!

Some, of the lettuce variety.  In fact, there is always so  much lettuce at the market’s at this time of year that we no longer worry about growing too much head lettuce to bring.  Instead we focus on our salad mix, many a local’s favorite and one of our signature offerings.  Right now, we especially love the mix which includes not only baby lettuces in a wide variety, but young greens as well as small brassica florets.  It is so beautiful and delicious!

All of our other greens fall more into the cooking greens category.  This week we are bringing a braising mix full of young greens, dandelion greens, nettles, baby kale mix, full size kale, and rainbow chard.  The color of spring for us is definitely green!

But saute a little green garlic, another spring treat that you really are only going to find at your local farmer’s market, perfectly light for spring cooking with its pleasantly mild garlic flavor, and add this to your cooking greens and you have everything you need–delicious!

But what is really exciting (even though it is equally depressing in some ways) is that we will also have spring rapini at this first market, and maybe for a while longer!  Because it has been so cool this spring, our brassica plants that we overwintered in the fields began to go to seed later than usual.  When these relatives of the ever popular broccoli go to seed, they produce equally edible florets that are yet another spring crop usually only offered by your local market farmer.  Similar to broccoli raab in appearance, but with each kind offering a unique flavor depending on which plant it comes from (turnip, kale, cabbage, etc), these are one of our spring favorites!  We wouldn’t normally have them at this time of year because their push to set seed would be stronger than our ability to harvest them if the weather were just a bit warmer.

But it isn’t really warm nor very summery yet, so relish these spring flavors we will!  They are just as yummy as the produce to come, and for those of you who might otherwise miss out on being able to shop from a farmer’s market when our Thursday market isn’t happening, what a treat for all of you!

Beginnings

Hooray!  Today marks the beginning of another CSA season, our fifth.  This week we have been thinking back to our first year, the beginnings of Growing Wild Farm.  We were happy to realize that a third of our members are founding members, folks that have been part of this farm experience since the beginning.  Another third have been with us for almost as long, joining in our second or third years, and about another third of you are just starting with us this year or joined sometime last year.

For some of you, the start of another year is old hat and our history is part of your own history of eating with us.  For our new members, though, we realized that some of our story may be unfamiliar, so we thought we would briefly share it today.

So, how did Growing Wild Farm begin?

The seeds of our farm started to germinate  within the first year of our marriage.  We, admittedly, married and started our family while relatively young by today’s standards.  The farmer was just 23 (I was 25) and up to that point we were still pursuing other interests.  When we met, one of us was going to be starting a graduate program in literature and philosophy , the other was focused on making music.  We really didn’t have the kind of clear ideas about how we were going to make a living that many people do.  We were both idealists and at that point, we were happy to be doing what we loved and money was not a concern.

But together, we quickly realized that we wanted to start a family.  Long story short, after starting a family and beginning to grow our own food and becoming friends with someone who had spent time working on a CSA farm out here in the Pacific Northwest, we decided that this was the work for us.  It would fulfill both our need to make a living to support our family, as well as our own personal need to do work that we loved and that held significance to us, all while keeping us together as a family.  Having been introduced to Wendell Berry in college, the idea of local foodsheds had always stuck with me, and I had always imagined living in the country in a self-sustaining kind of way.  Once we began gardening, the farmer quickly found that he loved growing food, building soil naturally, and creating diverse and alive spaces where our crops flourished as well as provided a balanced ecosystem for wild things as well.

We read gardening books and permaculture books and some that pertained to commercial growing, moved here to Oregon, and began looking for land.  In many ways, we were so naive!  We had started our married life in Colorado were we knew we could never afford land, spent time in my home state of Nebraska where land was very reasonable, then moved here knowing that land was not too over-inflated, but it was still high close in to the community we had found in McMinnville.

So while we looked at properties closer to Sheridan and Grand Ronde, much farther away than we wanted, Grandma and Grandpa asked us how we would feel about buying something together.  There were many things to consider, especially since Oregon’s land use laws make it hard for you to have two residences on a piece of land with only one pre-existing home.  In the end, we decided we could figure this part of it out down the road since they would be staying in California for a few more years, and we all agreed it was a good idea.

Time was of the essence since they were selling a home to re-invest in the farm.  I was nearly due with our third child.  They came up for a week or so and there was a whirlwind of looking at properties and deciding on one that week!  It was not the long and drawn out search for our “perfect” property by any means, but it was going to be such a benefit to us all, and we would have some land to start our farm, so we were excited!  So that year we closed on the property on my little girl’s due date, she was born a week later, and we moved in when she was two months old.

The farmer started transforming this place even before we moved, planting our first orchard as soon as the farm was ours, coming out to water them while we coddled our new little baby at our home in town.  The rest of that year we walked the property, drew out a map of what we thought the whole place might look like one day (and we are always surprised, when we pull this out, how things are coming together so much like this first plan!), and we started to envision our business.

Again, we were naive in so many ways!  We knew we wanted to be a CSA farm primarily, while doing our one (at that time) local farmer’s market, as well as selling a little to restaurants.  This model has still proven to be the best fit for us and for a sustainable farm business.  However, not having grown food on such a large scale for production before, just having grown a home garden and selling some of that abundance at a very small Nebraska farmer’s market, we were not fully prepared to begin offering a CSA that first year….we just didn’t know that until after we were knee deep in our first season.

It was very hard and frustrating and, quite honestly, humiliating.  We took our permaculture growing method of sheet mulching and tried to apply it to our larger growing space on soil that was heavy, heavy, heavy clay, sold 50 CSA shares, and got really excited to be living out our dream.  That year, getting vegetables to grow in that soil was like trying to pull teeth that weren’t loose.  It hurt.  We kept our chins up, and worked really hard to meet our obligation to our CSA members.  We bought organic fruit from other farms to round things out.  By the end of the year we were exhausted and relieved to be done for the year.  We even ended farmer’s market two weeks early.

The farmer went back to work landscaping for the winter and we re-thought everything.  The truth was we didn’t want to do anything else at all.  We knew this was the work we were meant to do, we loved it and the life of living on the farm.  WE BELIEVED IN IT.  We knew that nourishing our community and the land we were stewards of mattered.

And so, despite that first year, we went forward.  We rearranged our farm model slightly, slowly building back up to this year, where we are right back to the plan we started with.  We have transformed our soil and are now growing on more land, all of it in good health.  Around our third season, we joked that we had completed our two year internship and that we were starting our business in earnest.  Now, in our 5th year we are happy to have a thriving CSA, two markets to attend with one year round, and some great local restaurants who like to buy our produce when we have it.  The farmer has even been able to retire from landscaping and is now a full time farmer!

We have had many growing pains along the way, but that comes with any kind of good learning.  We have been stretched and molded by the work we have done.  We have grown as our farm has grown, and found a home not only on our farm, but through our farm, in our community.

So, hooray!  Today marks the beginning of another season of eating together.  This year, you will share with us the delicious flavors of each season, of food that tastes unlike anything you can find in the store, full of life and nutrition.  We will welcome you to the farm, we will celebrate together this summer.  Each week, we will see each other and share small news with each other, all while communing together over the gifts of the earth, the beautiful produce grown on this farm.

Call to Action: Farm Bill HB 2336

I really have been meaning to get a proper post up here on the blog.  January was unintentionally quiet on this space, and it felt good and fine, since the farm is at its quietest for that one beautiful, still month.  Since February blew in with a fresh breeze and a bit of upstart in our energies as we begin the work of the new season and start to see new growth on the ground, I have woken up many mornings in hopes of doing some writing, only to be needed elsewhere.  Soon.  I promise.

But today, I wanted to quickly call attention to a bill that is going to the house here in Oregon in just a few days:   HB 2336– The Direct Farm Marketing Bill.  Here is a link to some information and a bit written by Anthony Boutard from Ayers Creek Farm about it and where it is at now and what needs to be done.

We would like to urge you all to call your representatives and help move this forward.  It is a good bill, and will directly benefit us and many other Oregon farmers!!

Now back to work….

To market, to market!!!

Although it happened without being planned, the babe and I spent almost all day at The Market yesterday:  he snuggled in his wrap sleeping soundly and giving everyone only a top of the head view of his baby cuteness, me working our market booth with the farmer for the first time since mid-August or so.  What a treat it was to see most of our CSA members and regular market customers again!  And what a treat it was to see it so bustling and busy!

Going into fall and winter, we can’t help but let worries sprout their ugly heads.  We can never count on the weather, but there is always more concern about what the weather will bring in the winter months than in the spring and summer.  There is always concerns about if enough was planted and if enough growth will be put on the plants before they just stop growing and sit out the rest of winter until the light and warmth return.  Will we have enough to harvest every week during these months?  Will our plans work out?

For the last two winters that we have tried this, they haven’t.  We have had weather that we were unprepared for and we haven’t been able to harvest, for the CSA at least, like we had hoped.   We have, however, always had vegetables to harvest.  And that is why we are so excited to have a farmer’s market to attend throughout the entire year.

But this is a new and young market, and it brought with it other concerns…could it draw enough folks to support us through the winter?

It has been such a relief, and such a testament to the great base of active, concerned, and savvy food shoppers we share this community with, to see that this market is already so vibrant at just its one-year mark.

And having a vibrant, year round market makes a world of difference!  Without the support of its community, small farms will not be there to provide their community with delicious and well grown products.  We are so grateful to all of you who are coming out each and every Saturday to see us.  And after such a long break from seeing everyone, it was really great for me to see all of you.  In previous years, when our Thursday market ended in October, there was always a whole lot of sadness to think we had more than 30 weeks off from market season.  Now, we get to continue without a break!  And for us, this means not only do we get to bring our own goods to town each week of the year, but we get to continue shopping from some of our favorite local vendors each week as well.

It also means that we get to keep our connection to the community, face to face, throughout the year.  Farmer’s markets are more than just a place to shop, for consumers and vendors alike.  They are a place for the community to gather, to grow connections, to become stronger and more unified, and most importantly, to have fun together!  I can’t say for sure that the baby and I will be there every week, but the farmer and our farm products will, thanks to all of you who will be there too.