Movie Stars?! Buying our Farm video

Farm film

A while back a few people came out to the farm to create a film for ThinkFARM about us buying our farm. Neither of us are super comfortable being on camera but we did it anyway and it’s now up on the ThinkFARM website here.

Or you can watch it right now:

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On the farm today.

Spring Lettuce Planting

It was so warm and sunny and perfect in the tunnel today! We had some lettuce that just needed to be planted so we prepared an area and stuck them in. We’re trying to reorganize a bit…last year we used the whole front section of this tunnel for seedlings. Now we’re going to need to use the edges a bit more efficiently. It’s going to be a bit tighter in here, but hopefully it will all work out.

Lettuce seedling

We had lots to pot up too. Because of the cold weather this year, we needed the heated bench for more seedlings this year (many cool-tolerant crops get moved off the heated bench after germination). So, we started many seeds quite intensively in open flats. Here are a whole bunch of kale seedlings in a strip tray.

Kale babes

We’ve started a lot more flower seedlings than last year too. Here I am potting up some ‘New Look’ Dusty Miller from an open flat to 72-cell trays. I’m so excited to see them in the field!

Potting up Dusty Miller

These beet greens want to go out asap! Last year, they were transplanted to the high tunnel but I don’t think there will be room this year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the caterpillar tunnels up soon!

Beet Greens

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In Union

I’m still dealing with a bit of jet lag from the long flight but I’ve just got to share the awesomeness that happened in Victoria, BC this past weekend.

Victoria, BC

I went out there for a 3-day National Farmers Union (NFU) Youth Retreat. This was my second NFU Youth Retreat. The first one I attended happened last year at Waldegrave Farm in NS. I came away from that meeting crazy inspired and pumped. There’s nothing better than hanging out with a bunch of other young farmers from across the country who have both similar and different challenges, opportunities, dreams, and goals!

Daffodils

This one in Victoria was just as amazing, with the added benefit of the crazy perfect climate at this time of year. I was shocked to see green grass, pink cherry blossoms, and yellow daffodils when I’d left behind white snow.

Who were the cast of characters from across Canada all living in a sweet beach house on the ocean with me? (And all wearing plaid for this picture.)

NFU Youth 2014

From Western Canada to Eastern (roughly):

Alex Fletcher, current President of the NFU Youth and farmer at Wind Whipped Farm and his partner Virginie Lavallee Picard.

Seann Dory, farmer at Sole Food Street Farms in Vancouver.

Sara Dent, coordinator of the Young Agrarians.

Lisa Lundgard, current vice-president of the NFU Youth and farmer at The Veggie Patch in Alberta.

Lisa

Blake Hall, current NFU Region 7 coordinator and farmer at Prairie Gold Pastured Meats in Red Deer, Alberta.

Mike Kozlowski, farmer at Steel Pony Farm in Red Deer, Alberta.

Ted and Dana, farmers at the Prairie Pasture Project in Alberta.

Dana and Ted

Graham from Goff Farm in Saskatchewan.

Ayla and Graham

Dean Harder from Lowe Farm in Manitoba.

Dan Kretschmar from Grenville Farm in Muskoka,ON.

Dan

Ayla Fenton, a farmer from Roots Down Farm in Kingston, ON.

Jennie Greven, an urban farmer/gardener and member of Toronto Farmers in Toronto, ON.

So, what did we do at this Youth Retreat? Besides eating and drinking the most delicious farm products from BC and across Canada (many of the youth farmers brought some of the food they’ve grown out to share).  I have NEVER had fresher, more amazing wild salmon than this!

Salmon

We discussed the issues that are impacting our farms right now and the ones we anticipate impacting us in the future. We talked about how we can grow our collective farming voice to encompass more of the people who care about the same issues as we do and feel that it’s hard to make an impact on their own. We shared stories of optimism and stories of despair.

NFU Youth Retreat

I learned about the issues facing prairie grain farmers who can’t sell their product. Even though last season offered record yields, it also will likely bring a record for low profits. I saw pictures of massive piles of grain on the ground next to the silos overflowing with grain they couldn’t sell.

I learned about issues facing migrant workers in Canada and the U.S.

I learned how GM alfalfa is affecting a farm that grows, saves, and sells organic alfalfa seed.

I learned about Bill C-18 and UPOV ’91 and how they will affect ALL farmers and eaters (this is an extremely important issue to be informed about RIGHT NOW! So, read about it, find a petition to sign, or just talk to your MP about it. Never forget that under Canadian law, silence is considered consent. If you don’t speak up, you’re agreeing to this Bill.)!

I was amazed and grateful to hear about the amazing organization La Via Campesina and how vast it’s membership is around the world.

I shared what I knew about the proactive, nation-wide Bauta Family Initiative for Seed Security. I encouraged the other young farmers to access the educational and funding resources through their regional seed coordinators.

All of us shared pictures and stories of our respective farms and I felt so excited for the future of family-scale farming across this beautiful and diverse country of ours.

On the second day of our retreat, we attended the Young Agrarians Spring Farmer Mixer. It was awesome! There were between 60-80 young farmers present! The day was filled with educational workshops, good food, networking and a good new-fashioned hoe-down!

The NFU Youth spoke on a panel about why we’re members and what the National Farmers Union means for us. Then we broke out for some smaller round table discussions about the issues facing young farmers in BC.

Young Agrarians Spring Mixer

Here I am speaking about why I joined the NFU. You can read basically what it was I said on the Young Agrarians blog here.

I’ve come back home inspired that the work we do here on our small farm is part of something much bigger.

We can be the change we want to see in the world!

If you want to join your voice to the collective voice supporting family farms across Canada, go here.

Brainstorming

 

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What’s Happening on the Farm?

Post-seeding handsWhile it doesn’t look like spring yet outside, we’re getting ready for it anyway! We almost forgot to bring some potting mix indoors last fall, but thankfully the light bulb went on. Otherwise, we would have had to work with frozen potting mix!

Greenhouse heated bench

The heated bench is filling up fast. We’re planning on creating a “real” germination chamber this year for seedling trays that don’t need light to germinate (usually we makeshift a germ. chamber that becomes something else later in the season). Very soon, a bunch of these trays will need to move off the heated bench to make room for things that need the heat more.

Like more tomatoes….

Tomato babiesThis is our first seeding of tomatoes. The first ones will get transplanted into the high tunnel. The second seeding is for the caterpillar tunnels and the third one will be for the tomato seedlings we sell at the market (since most of our customers will be planted them outdoors).

Here are some more glimpses into the greenhouse on this fine March day:

 

 

Mustard green sprouts

 

Onions

 

Temperature on seedling bench

 

Asian greens

 

Parsley babies

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What Every Farmer Needs to Know About Storage!

Oh so pretty Jerusalem ArtichokesBe honest: did you choose to read this blog post because of it’s amazing (?!) title?

It’s not really like my usually blog post titles because I usually think them up myself (however random or cheesy they may be). This blog post title however was generated by a tool called the Blog Topic Generator, which I learned about via facebook. When I read the titles it generated for me, I didn’t really think they were going to work for our farm blog but whatever…I used one.

So, I don’t actually know what every farmer needs to know about storage. But I’d like to. We’ve been thinking a lot about storage lately at the farm. Especially winter storage of vegetables. Why? Because the walk-in cooler that works just fine for the majority of the season (when we’re filling and emptying it every week) is not even close to being sufficient for storing enough vegetables to sell through the winter and into the spring. It’s way too small for that.

What we really want/need is a root cellar. And being the young idealists we are, we want a very cool one that combines the traditional root cellar with newer technologies. We want our root cellar to be capable of functioning well with and without the use of electricity. Because we’re hoping to still have a long life ahead of us and that life just might not have all of the comforts and conveniences of the life we lead now. So we always plan for a possible life without electricity (and considering the winter we’re having….it seems that the possibility is a reality for many).  It’s one of our Risk Management Strategies.

So, what are our biggest barriers to making this dreamy old/new hybrid root cellar? Well, money of course is always a factor but the real one is this: we don’t know what to build.

There is so much information out there. And yes, I’ve read the awesome Root Cellaring book and seen many root cellar designs and storage facilities in person. But what is best for OUR farm, OUR goals, and OUR resources (including financial ones)?

Well, I don’t have the answers and I would love some advice. So, if you have some, please share a comment.

And of course we’re very excited for the upcoming (and very timely) crop storage workshop being held in different locations across the Maritimes at the end of February. Chris Callahan is being brought up from the U.S. of A. by ACORN to discuss crop storage (You can read more about him here).  And here is where you can sign up for the workshop. We’ll be attending the Dieppe one and there’ll be ones happening in Truro, Wolfville, Fredericton, and Charlottetown.

And being the geek that I am, I’ve been researching more about storage overall so that when the time comes, I will have a better sense of what in the heck Chris is talking about and what I want to ask in particular. There are lots of great resources on the UVM Extension AgEngineering Blog that Chris maintains.

Well, I hope you’re not too disappointed by this post after the “amazing” title really hyped it up. Maybe in 20 years I can actually write the content of a blog post with this title. But don’t get your hopes up.

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Sitting Around the Organic Table

Deep in organic thought

One of the things I love most about farming is the never-ending opportunity for growth. Not just the wonderful growth I see all around me – plants, animals, the development of our farm in general. But the growth of me as a person. I get to learn about things I never really even considered.

One such opportunity recently came along: I am now on the Canadian Organic Standards Revision Technical Committee on behalf of the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN). In mid-December, we had the first of four 3-day meetings that will take place over the next 2 years.

Sure, it sounds kinda dry. And I never really saw myself sitting in a big boardroom, surrounded by the bigwigs of the Organic scene (did you even know there were bigwigs of the organic scene? I didn’t.).

But it was awesome! (And yes, I am a geek!) I learned about so many things to consider when each organic “rule” is written. Like, if we make it too strict, will anyone be able to even follow it? And, if we make it too open, will some people find loopholes around it? And what do other countries’ (our “trading partners”) organic standards say?

I learned a lot about the parts of the organic “chain” that I’m not really involved with (companies who make packaged goods, maple syrup producers, and big scale organic egg farmers, for example).

I learned that each word and each comma or period or hyphen matters (thank goodness the things I write/ramble about don’t require the same amount of scrutiny!).

And I learned a whole new world of things that I have no idea about and want to learn more about. And for this I need your help. I want to know what you think about the following topics. As a voting member on the Committee, I am not representing myself. So, I need and want your input. You, as an organic eater or as an organic farmer (or processor, or retailer…) have very valuable thoughts, ideas, and opinions for me.

So, tell me what you know/think about some of these topics that were discussed at the recent meetings:

  • Waxed cardboard boxes…compost or landfill….what’s more organic? Right now, waxed boxes can’t be added to a compost pile used on an organic farm. And they’re not recyclable. So, they mostly get thrown out once they’re no longer usable.
  • Fortification: do you think they should be used in organic packaged goods? Right now only organic milk and white flour are allowed (because they are required by law) to be fortified. You know what I mean…when a product says “Fortified with Vitamin A” for example. The term ‘Power Bar’ or ‘Energy Bar’ apparently can’t be used unless there are fortifications added. Does this put organic products at a disadvantage compared to non-organic products? Are fortified products more nutritious than their organic counterparts? Or do fortifications create an imbalance of nutrients (because it’s no longer “as nature intended”, it’s “as some human beings intended”)? Are you wary of the actual ingredients in a Fortification?
  • Do you think the standards for organic honey are too strict? 3000 m around a beehive is the distance around which no genetically engineered crops or crops sprayed with synthetic pesticides may be growing around the hive to allow it to be organic. Is this reasonable? Necessary to maintain purity? Is it even possible to maintain purity? Would keeping the hive away from GE or synthetically sprayed FLOWERING crops be enough?
  • Treated wood. Big-time juicy issue within the Committee. In the Prairies, untreated wood that will last for any length of time is really hard to get and/or crazy expensive. So, not really “commercially available” for farmers buying thousands of them for pasture land fence posts. But there is a strong concern about areas with wet soil (or that sometimes floods and/or turns into a watercourse) because of the high likelihood of stuff like arsenic leaching into the water. There is also concern with the manufacturing of the chemical treatment (that it’s cancer-causing for the workers in the factories) and the health problems for the people working in the mines.
  • Hydroponics: ok, so hydroponics (growing without soil) is not allowed in organics. It seems like there are consumers and retailers who want organic hydroponics. So why isn’t it allowed? Because organic farming is all about the soil: a wonderful, complex, living soil that is so amazing that no one can create a food grown outside of it with the same balance and complexity of nutrients. (Sprouts aren’t considered hydroponic because they don’t use added nutrients.) However, there was discussion about the possible importance of hydroponics in places where soil is a limiting factor (ex. Yukon and Labrador). And for urban farmers. Though of course, not being able to certify a product as organic doesn’t prohibit anyone growing it just as a local product.
  • If you are a farmer that produces organic haylage or silage, what acids are you using as a preservative (if any)? What products are you using? And why did you choose that type over another?

I have a few other special requests: Any wild blueberry farmers interested in certifying organic…what would you change/add to the Standard to make it make sense for you?

Do you have a strong interest in raising organic rabbits? If you have the expertise and a bunch of phone/email time to commit, there is a “Working Group” being formed to create specific Standards for organic rabbits.

Any Maritimes maple producers want to join the “Working Group” on Maple (so far it’s basically all producers from Quebec)?

Now, I’m sure a lot of you have opinions about other parts of the Organic Standard. And I want to hear those too (though please keep in mind that I am a full-time farmer and my role on this Committee is a volunteer one). I heard once that, under Canadian law, silence is considered consent. So, please, don’t be silent!

To read the full report on this past meeting, go here.

Organic Standards Revision Committee

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Market Gardener: The Book

Reading the Market Gardener

A couple seasons ago, some real great farmers, Dan and Emily from Tourne-Sol Cooperative Farm in Quebec were visiting and we were talking about ideas for conference speakers for the ACORN conference. Dan mentioned a farmer friend, Jean-Martin who was writing a book sharing secrets from the success on the farm he runs with his partner Maude-Helene (called Les Jardins de la Grelinette), whom I had never heard of. ACORN brought Jean-Martin in to speak at the 2012 conference and he definitely wowed the crowd (you can find notes from his presentations here).

And he wowed me too. I strongly believe that new farmers, young farmers, struggling farmers, unfulfilled farmers, etc. need to see examples of farms and farmers that are successful (however they have defined that success) and profitable. We need to see that our chosen career can fulfill the dreams and goals and (at least) many of our ideals.

So, it was great to see a small farm (both in terms of physical acreage and in terms of labour force) provide a very respectable livelihood for a family while retaining its core values of environmental and personal stewardship (I’m not sure that “personal stewardship” is a commonly used phrase but I think it makes sense).

Jean-Martin’s book, Le Jardinier Maraicher, came out last year. And folks were thrilled. Well, at least folks who can read French. And while I don’t want any of my French immersion teachers over the years to be offended, I did not learn that the word “grelinette” was French for “broadfork” during my school years, nor the French words for many other farming tools or activities. I was tempted to buy the book anyway and muddle through it with a dictionary but then I heard that FarmStart was trying to raise funds to have the book translated.

Well, the funds were raised and the book was translated. And it’s just come out (translated to The Market Gardener). I couldn’t wait to get my hands on in and, when I did, I couldn’t put it down. I read it within a couple days.

It’s not a hard book to read. Reading it, I felt inspired with actions I can actually do this coming season to improve our farm. One of those actions will be to try solarising some of our beds before planting with black silage plastic or tarps. This will prevent weeds from growing and allow earthworms and other soil organisms to come right up and digest the plant matter while minimizing tillage.

The Market Gardener goes through and nicely describes small-scale appropriate management techniques and tools for all the different jobs a market gardener gets up to over the year (like choosing a site and preparing it, soil fertility management, harvest and storage, and crop planning).

The goals Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene came into farming with are goals that Bryan and I share as well as many of the young farmers we know. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve really resonated with this book. I know it will become a well-used book in our home and one that we will frequently recommend.

To read the first chapter of the book as well as the foreword and advance praise, here’s the link: First Chapter of The Market Gardener

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Fermenting Goodness

Fermenting veggies

Last weekend, we gave a second workshop on lactofermentation in Cocagne, NB. The first one happened a month earlier. Cocagne is awesome. There are 3 cool groups based out of Cocagne that hosted/organized the workshops: the Cocagne Sustainable Development Group, Slow Food Cocagne Acadie, and Transition Cocagne. And, we were amazed by the interest. The first workshop sold out within a few days and had a pretty long waiting list…which is why the second one was quickly organized.

Workshop

Bryan and I have been into lactofermentation for years and it’s become a significant part of the food we preserve to sustain us during the winter (in addition to freezing and winter storage/root cellaring).

Ferments

We are very much inspired in our fermenting endeavours by Sandor Katz and his books Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.

Kimchi

These beautiful photos were taken by Maxime Gauvin from Slow Food Cocagne Acadie.

Bryan discussing brine

Here is the link to the handout we passed out to the participants of the workshops: Fermentation handout

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Storing your Veggies for Winter

Confection Squash

So, now is the time to start hoarding (storing) food for the winter. Many people aren’t exactly sure how to do this (since it is a skill that grocery stores have not required us to continue). But we think it’ still an important skill to practice, so for those of you who are willing and interested, here are some tips for storing produce in a typical home.

Identify the areas of your house that do not freeze and may be suitable for storing vegetables. The following can be helpful:

Description of Area Temperature What to Store there
Refrigerator 4C (40F) Carrots, Beets, Kale, Turnip, Rutabaga, Cabbage, Jerusalem Artichokes, Winter Radish (Watermelon or Daikon)
Unheated entrance, attic or spare room 4-10C (40-50F) Squash, Onions, Garlic
Cellar, cool damp 1-10C (33-50F) Potatoes, Sweet potatoes

When storing vegetables in the fridge, put in a plastic bag and remove as much air as possible before storing.

If you are using an unheated entrance, attic or unheated spare room, make sure the area does not freeze, and has an area that is dark. Onions and garlic will start to sprout when exposed to sunlight. When storing winter squash, it is best that they are not touching and have good airflow to prevent rot. If the stems are broken off, use these first as they tend not to store as well.

In a cellar, some ventilation is helpful. Potatoes also need to be kept in a dark location to keep them from sprouting.

Keep checking on your stored vegetables, removing any that look soft or have signs of rotting.

Happy Storing!

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Saving those Seeds

Lettuce about to flower

This year, we’re saving seeds not only for our own farm, but to sell to a local seed company (Annapolis Seeds).

Why are we into seed-saving?

Well, we love the idea of a seed being at home here on the farm with us. Just as we are a product of our environment, plants are too. And they are very adaptable. So, of course, we want seeds that have adapted to our sweet little farm. Who get our climate. And our soil type. And our soil life.

We also want seeds that have adapted to living with us. Shannon and Bryan. And the way we farm. And the flavours and looks that we go for.

So we save seeds. But we can’t save all the seeds we grow on the farm. And we don’t want to. We also love the idea of planting seeds that other farmers like us grew and saved. And that they’re sharing a little bit of their farm with us (as well as the flavours and looks and other qualities those farmers go for).

So we have started saving seeds commercially in order to reciprocate. And to diversify. And for local seed security (or seed sovereignty). And because it offers a different challenge and a different way to view the plants we cherish. And because we think other seed savers are some of the coolest people we know and we want to learn more from them.

The picture above is of  lettuce just about to flower, destined for seed production. This next picture is what that same plant looks like now, ready for harvest of those seeds.

Lettuce seeds

Lettuce is technically a self-pollinated crop, but isolation distances (the distance between different varieties of the same crop so they don’t cross) for lettuce vary from none up to 150 ft (depending on the source). And since all of the lettuce (3 varieties), we’re growing for seed production are under the same greenhouse structure (so rainy fall weather doesn’t turn the seeds moldy), we’ve isolated them by time rather than distance (though they are still about 15 ft apart from each other). Hopefully the weather will cooperate and all three varieties will produce a nice seed crop.

Oh, and something else I love:

Edamame (soybean) seed

Last year, we got one little seed packet of edamame (fresh soybeans) from Annapolis Seeds and planted it all out. There wasn’t enough plants to sell any edamame at market. So we saved the seed (see picture above) and this year all of the edamame we sold at market was from seed saved on our farm. I love that! And we’ve saved more of it this year. So next year’s edamame on our stand will be the result of 2 generations of edamame raised on our farm. Which will be even cooler.

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