Thinking about Greenhouses

This morning, even though the farmer usually starts harvesting for tomorrow’s CSA and market first thing, we lingered over our cups of coffee talking greenhouses.  This is a topic that often comes up, but it is at this time of year that we think about it most.

When we started farming, we used a small little house constructed of pvc-pipe given to us by a friend.  We covered it it in recycled plastic sheets removed from another friend’s large hoophouse when he was replacing it with new plastic.  It was a fine size for using as a place to start our seeds in late winter/early spring, and that was what our immediate need for a greenhouse was.

Every spring, though, when the winds would rise, and usually before our starts were all planted out, this flimsy little greenhouse would get ripped apart.

The last time this happened, the plastic we were using was finally too shredded to reuse.  And so we had to take all that plastic to the dump:  we could hardly stand it!

Since that time, and always really, we haven’t been able to decide how to fit the use of plastic into our vision of sustainable agriculture, or our original driving principles of permaculture, which aims to create a permanent agricultural system.

There has also, however, always been reality to deal with too, and the truth of the matter is that season extension is pretty important in many ways, the most significant being, we want to provide as much food as we can year-round for our community.  Just as strongly as we believe in sustainability and permanence, we believe in eating locally.  For all of you to be able to continue eating delicious and fresh, locally grown food in the winter months is just as important as is is during the abundance of summer.

And we really, really appreciate farms like our fellow farmer’s Denison Farms at the Saturday market, who with the use of lots of hoophouses are able to bring a wonderful variety of foods year round.

We also, quite honestly, need to be competitive, and every other farm in our area uses some  hoophouses or grows partially on black plastic.  Our crops grown out of doors and in the soil will always be behind those grown in these conditions.  We have a small amount of crops covered in mini hoophouses in the field, using more recycled plastic from old greenhouses, but we could easily  see the benefit of having so much more covered.

Two winters ago, we built this wood framed passive solar greenhouse off the south side of our machine shed.  We didn’t want to hassle with that flimsy pvc framed house blowing around in the spring anymore, and we had reached a time when we needed more space anyways.  The intention with this greenhouse is to ultimately cover it with glass.  For the first year, we again used the plastic we had around.  This year we replaced that with corrugated fiberglass that came from a small greenhouse we helped remove from someones property.  This will be somewhat more permanent until we get all the glass together and installed.  This is the kind of greenhouse we always envisioned.

Inside, we have been able to play around with a layered system, providing multiple uses beneficially.  Underneath the tables we use for starts, we scattered straw innoculated with elm mushrooms.  Last year we used the space to brood our baby chickens at the same time we were germinating most seeds and this added warmth to the greenhouse at a cold time of the year.  This year we switched to water barrels to collect the sun’s warmth and bring up the temperature inside.  We added a wall to the west end and created a mini space inside of the larger space to keep extra warm in order to start our warm weather crops like tomatoes and peppers.

The farmer is experimenting with growing carrots in large pots, has peas growing up the unused wall, already harvested a small crop of bok choy with no flea beetle damage, and has the basil that will stay in the house all summer potted up.  It has been fun and useful and we only which it were bigger.

This morning we started talking in earnest about doing just that, making larger versions of such a greenhouse.  The farmer is tired of me pushing him to consider moving towards getting some hoophouses, but I have always felt pretty stongly that we needed more space in season extension.  So, we are going to draw up some plans and figures and just go with our guts on this one.  To actually build these, we will have to get some funding, something we have yet to do formally in our business venture.  But we feel that it will be worth the extra cost to keep both our idealism and practical business needs happy.  If it seems doable in the end, and the finances are there, we will hopefully be building these this winter!  Then next spring, no matter how long the cool and wet weather seems to last (we ended up starting a fire last night!), we will have a warm and dry–and even spring pest free–place to grow more food.  That is a happy thought!

This week on the farm…

  • was warm!
  • brought color to our skin
  • kept us out of doors all day
  • brought visible growth in the plants from one day to the next (this is always exciting when one has watched plants sit in the field growing so slow in the cooler weather!)
  • meant hard work–most of the whole main field was weeded and is almost entirely planted
  • was filled with near constant splashing after the pool was filled for the summer just in time for what was deemed “hot enough to swim weather” by the small folks around here
  • we picnicked repeatedly
  • the children and the farmer pitched the tent and slept outside
  • the farmer’s morning routine of slug hunting was less needed as the heat helped us kill a bunch of these nasty critters
  • we watered! (which just means that we are moving along in the season…a good thing!)
  • we negotiated the fine details regarding the up and coming strawberries (the farmer and the kids and I will be splitting them 80/20)  There is still debate brewing about this, because I think we could eat and preserve them all, but the farmer assures me there will be SO many, we will have to share…soon by the looks of things in the field!

We hope that wherever you are, either here with us in the Willamette Valley soaking up some much appreciated warmth and sun, or farther away with your own spring/early summer weather, that you enjoyed the feeling of excitement and business that comes as we work hard now getting ready to enjoy the coming dog days!

Little Helpers

This week has been busy.  With warm, dry weather for a change and the last frost behind us, we have been prepping and planting all week, all of us.  The kids and I, although really just side line workers in the field, do what we can when we can, to help the farmer with all of his work.

It is interesting to see how each year, at their different ages, the interest the children have in helping waxes and wanes.  There are some ages where helping is the funnest thing happening, others where it is a chore or where interest in it can only be sustained for the shortest time.   Tasks in the field usually start out with all of us heading out with a plan to work together, then the farmer and I doing the bulk of the task while the boys each do a bit and then hang out with us for a while and then move on to a game that usually involves complicated story lines and fantastical creations of their imagination–our work all the while made more enjoyable by listening in on these magical worlds.  The little girl usually sticks close to me, talking, talking, talking, or gathering things together.  Baby is just the right age to nap in his pack on my back!

This week, the kids and I planted out the potatoes and the cucumbers.  The farmer, so much more.  I managed to move a lot of compost, and the boys planted flowers for their cut flower business.  The little help we can bring eases the burden at this time of year that the farmer feels, needing to be in about 100 places at one time, especially on harvest days that are too dry and nice not to be planting on.   And on those nice days, in the afternoon after we are done with school stuff, there isn’t anything we’d rather be doing anyways.

Food for thought

A neighbor brought this over for us this week, and I couldn’t help sharing.

I especially like numbers 1-4. Five and six seem like tenets everyone pretty much holds dear, right?  And no one wants to waste food.

But I like that the US Food Administration is promoting these two things when it comes to the nation and food:  thoughtfulness and local buying (not sure when the “and Drug” was added but found this interesting as well and will have to do some research when I am not buried in children with colds, holidays, birthdays, and spring farm work).

Supermarkets and fast food make it so easy to not have to think about what’s for dinner.  And even those of us who give a lot of our attention to what we eat and where it comes from have those nights when we hit dinner-time wishing we didn’t have to think about it (Don’t we?  At least I still do on “those” nights).  My point being, the allure of easy and mind-less is there even for the diligent.

I feel the burden of all the thought I put into how we eat every time I go to the grocery store.  Local, Organic, non-GMO, non-processed…and for us gluten and dairy and soy free…and meat we really only want to get at farmer’s market or from our farm–it isn’t easy to make these choices today simply because they are not the choices everyone is making.

Not the majority of consumers.  Not the supermarkets or fast food chains (even though the marketing is there).  And not the US Food and Drug administration.

If they were, our food culture would look much different.  And easy and thoughtful would coincide beautifully with one another.

Free trade, globalism, commodities, and large-scale meat production are where most of our federal government’s food policy energy goes.  A lot of things have changed in the last 100 or so years apparently.

But there is hope.  And I do hope that we all can be a part of bringing some things on that list back to the front of people’s minds when they are thinking about what to eat.

Food.  Buy it with thought.  Cook it with care. 

Buy local.

(And in my opinion and that of the 1917 US Food Administration, you should also consider using less wheat and unethically raised meat).

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.