It’s That Time of Year…

It’s that bittersweet time of year the farm these days…we’ve been harvesting our first squash and cucumbers, with many many MANY more to come in the following weeks, but at the same time we’re struggling to ward off the blight that is quite persistent in plaguing our poor tomatoes and snap peas. If anyone is not familiar with blight, it is a bacterial disease that is associated with large amounts of rainfall; rain water hits the ground, splashes up onto the bottom leaves of the plant, a water-loving bacteria grows, and diseased leaves turn yellow and die. Blight spreads easily from one leaf to the next, and can eventually spread to the entire plant. So for the last week or so we’ve been adamantly picking off the yellow leaves from our precious tomato plants, racing the blight clock that is ticking over our heads as rain clouds loom up above us. You never think about rain being a problem for farming; typically you’re wishing for rain and hoping for no drought. But too much rain is just as bad! And unfortunately all too common here with Minnesota’s touchy weather. But we’re working hard to keep our tomato and snap peas plants living and we have the proof! Everyone’s hands and clothes have a faint yellow tint to them, our sinks and bathtubs lately have resembled a yellow paint palette, and I know I personally can’t stop smelling tomato everywhere I go… but ‘tis the season! And it’s worth it, we have some beautiful red tomatoes coming in, and lots of green ones promising an abundant harvest as long as the weather cooperates and the blight is contained.

But on a brighter note our other crops are doing marvelously!! It’s incredible how much things can grow overnight. We’ve already harvested yellow squash, zucchini, eggplants, cucumbers, and lemon cucumbers this week, and this is only the beginning! By next week we’ll have more squash and zucchini than we’ll know what to do with! Our basil, cilantro, lemongrass and mint continue to keep us busy as well. There is nothing better than those harvest mornings when the sweet aromatic scent of basils fills the air. Meanwhile our chickens are entering their version of the “terrible two’s”…they know they can escape their fenced in area and now take advantage of their outdoor play time to plot a great escape each morning. The morning isn’t complete if Payne hasn’t chased Azzazello or one of the hens all over the tomato field, herding them back in to their coop before they peck up all of our mulch.

All in all, every day at the farm brings new produce, new surprises, new challenges, new mosquito bites, and new lessons. As time is winding down this summer, we sadly become more and more aware of our limited mornings left at the farm, but anxiously anticipate what the next few weeks will bring in the garden!

A Great Start to Another Great Week

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We like to farm at an hour that is deemed socially unacceptable at which to be awake and functioning.

We’re looking at another great week on the farm!  The weather is supposed to be sunny and beautiful for the next few days, so we are all excited to be outside working and enjoying it.  I think we can safely say that all of the extremely tedious farm work is completed for the season: all the tomatoes have been staked and trellised, and all of our 50+ rows have been weeded and mulched.  All that remains for the rest of the season now is daily maintenance, which usually includes weeding out a few stray, pesky weeds, re-trellising the tomato and cucumber plants as they continue to grow, and dusting our leafy greens with flour to deter the bugs.  However, due to some recent, strong storms, the tomatoes have taken a beating and have developed some early stages of blight; it’s now a race against time to see if we can pull off all of the diseased leaves before it spreads up the plant.

Despite the uncertain future of our delicate tomato crop, the rest of the produce is coming along fabulously.  We had another successful harvest today, and hauled a full load of herbs, lettuce, snap peas, squash, lemon cucumbers, and eggplant (our first of the season!) up to the cafeteria this morning.

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Give it another week or two, and our squash crop will be ready to explode.  The sea of elephant-ear-leafed plants is in its early stages of producing, and right now we’re bringing in two or three ripe fruits every few days; soon however, we’re going to be swimming in squash as these guys will be brimming with hundreds of fresh zucchinis and yellow crooknecks weekly.  If you don’t believe in aliens, stop by the farm for a day during a squash harvest and you’ll quickly change your mind: they’re mutant crops.  Harvest one and ten will pop up in its place overnight.  It’s unfathomable.

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It’s definitely a great start to another great week out at STOGROW: this is our favorite part of the farming season!  Have a fabulous day.

Happy August!

It’s officially August! Wow, where did the time go? I think back and it seems like everything flew by on fast-forward. But yet when I looked out over the field today, filled with giant tomato plants, sprawling squash leaves, and towering snap peas, I remembered all the hours that had passed on the far since the first weeks when all the plants were so small you feared of snapping them in half without even trying. When I think back to the start of the summer and our first days farming, I realize what remarkable transformations have occurred in the short span of two months. Our first day on the job we biked down to the farm all riled up to get farming and work in the dirt, but we found our promising farm to be an overgrown, weed jungle that quickly put a damper on all of our high spirits. But now when you stand out in the field, you are surrounded by luscious green leaves and the sweet smell of tomatoes, looking out to the natural lands with the sun rising above you…the farm couldn’t be more picturesque. And all that happened in just two months!

We are harvesting every week, weeding like crazy, and researching bizarre home remedies to combat our nasty bugs who have moved in as our new farm neighbors. Rather than worrying if the seeds will ever grow, now it’s “What if our tomato plants get blight?” and “How do we get these cabbage worms out of here?” This morning we began our new “flour therapy” on our kale and spinach plants. Supposedly bugs will eat the flour rather than the leaves and, well, you know how we joke that we feel so full we might explode? Well apparently that’s a real-life problem for bugs… A crazy solution, but cross your fingers that it works!

Everything has changed since the start of the summer – our daily tasks, our concerns, our triumphs. The time has gone so fast, but yet so much has happened! So much has been wisdom learned, so much experience gained, and so many vegetables planted. And the best part is…it’s only August! We still have another month of summer break to pretend we’re not students with homework and exams, and we still have at least two more months to spend out on the farm harvesting! And let me tell you, harvesting is the GREATEST part of our job. So while it’s sad to see our time on the farm going by so quickly, we’re ready to see what the next months’ harvests will bring!

Is It Seriously Almost August?!

Can you believe July is almost over?  Before we know it, it’ll be that time of year again when we have to choose between farming and going to class.  And let’s be honest, when it comes right down to it, farming usually wins out.  Just kidding!….Kind of.

Our field grows and transforms daily now.  We have survived the oh-god-please-seedlings-just-grow-already phase, and we’re now into the awww,-look-at-the-cute-little-baby-tomato! phase.  The squash are growing like a mutant crop (as squash typically do), our cucumbers have begun to flourish (against all odds!), and our onions are looking healthy and strong.  Oh, and have you SEEN our snap peas?  I mean, SERIOUSLY.  Jack and the Beanstalk’s got nothing on these pea pods.  The issue now is that they’re outgrowing their five-foot-tall bean canopies…

Like proud new parents, each morning brings squeals of delight from us as we discover a tiny hidden eggplant or a plump pea pod that sprouted overnight.  If the weather continues to cooperate, we will be able to harvest again soon!  Our lettuce, kale, basil, and sage are ready for another round, and the snap peas will certainly need a good pick-through soon as well.  However, it’s pretty difficult to harvest those without taste-testing one…or five…or the entire plant’s worth…oops.  In between harvests, we’re still keeping busy with tomato trellising and weeding.  If our plants like the sunshine, the weeds like it twice as much: if you turn your back on them for a second, they’ll sprout right back up.  We dumpster dive for newspaper to the point where we’re probably putting the recycling company out of business and have pretty much exhausted Minnesota’s supply of straw, but we’re still mulching like champs.  A few more rows to go, and then the weeding won’t be such a chore anymore!

Oh yeah.  And our chickens have started laying eggs!!  Couldn’t ask for more!

More pictures to come soon!  Have a great week.

The Farming Cycle

Happy Harvest Day!!!

Today we harvested our first kale, basil and lettuce of the season! Maybe I’m biased, but I’ve never  seen such beautiful basil and kale so crisp. It’s such a wonderful feeling to harvest crops and send them off into kitchens after seeing the growth each day that started from just a single seed. And for us at St. Olaf,  that basil or kale will mostly likely end up back in our fields, full cycle, as compost for our future crops. And really, that’s how it should be, isn’t it?

Everything in the world is based on cycles. Water cycles, energy cycles, seasonal cycles, planetary cycles, life cycles… all these cycles are what keep life going. So why have we grown so far away from our food cycle? Why do we as humans want so little interaction with our food? And why can’t we be integrated into the cycle anymore?

As time has passed, and technology and science have evolved and improved, humans have found ways to remove themselves from so much that used to be an integrated part our daily existence. Just look at the food industry today. I would guess that a very small percentage of Americans can honestly say that they play an active role in their food production and growth. Instead, most rely on large industrial farms, high-tech machinery, food processing plants, and other people to grow, produce, and prepare their food. There is no longer an intimate cycle between humans and their food. We no longer are present for the birth of the cycle; we don’t plant the seeds, water them, nurture them. Without these starting moments, we lose that close connection and unity that we can have our food. Cooking our food lacks cultural and personal meaning. It’s a chore rather than an awaited ritual. Our food holds little value; we waste it and throw it away, disregarding the nourishment that it can offer our soil after we’ve tossed it aside as food scrap. Without that first planting step in the cycle, it doesn’t occur to us to consider the value of composting since it doesn’t directly pertain to us, but rather our soil. It’s impossible to really think on the full scale of the cycle when we are no longer an integrated member of it.

While forward-thinking technology and innovations clearly have their value and benefits in this world, they have their downfalls as well…and our food system is the perfect example for this paradoxical situation we face. The improvements to our food system have been pretty remarkable in regards to the number of people who have been the fed, and the variety and quantity of crops that have been grown.  Yet all this has been done at a mighty high price for the health and sustainability of our well-being and environment. If everyone could take a step back and remember our roots as farmers and keepers of the land, I think there could be some valuable lessons learned…or rather “relearned.” While I know it’s not possible for everyone to grow their own food and be there for every step of their food’s cycle, we can strive to be more present. Be there for one part of it and make an effort to learn and become better informed about the steps for which you are absent. You’ll realize, just like I do every morning on the farm, how many amazing moments you’ve been missing out on and beauty that lies in the science of our food.

No One Ever Said Farming is Easy

I’m sad to report that we’ve had unfortunate experience this week with the harsh realities of life – the food chain in particular. Our lot of six lively chickens is down to a much lonelier four…

Monday morning we were shaken from our groggy morning states with the realization that Remadios was nowhere to be found. All that remained of her were a few feathers. We debated in our heads… Was she left out on Friday? Did she escape the coop? Did some other animal get in? It was all a mystery with no clues left for us.

But this morning things became a little clearer…Alice had now fallen victim to our mystery predator (we think a weasel). We gave Alice a lovely burial ceremony, and paid respects to both her and Remadios, and then got to work moving and sealing up the chicken coop. Some major renovations and improvements have been made, and *fingers crossed* our four remaining chickens will be safe tonight! I think they’ve been pretty shaken up…Azzazello only called out a few times today, most likely depressed that his partner in crime, Alice, is gone. All-in-all, the group is quieter than normal, and I don’t blame them…

After finding Alice this morning, I occurred to me that this was part of being a farmer…one of the tougher parts. Our chickens are near and dear to our hearts, our pets you could say. They keep us company every morning, and entertain us with their crazy stunts. Each one has a distinct personality that you learn to admire. But on the other hand, our chickens are functional-they lay our eggs (or at least they are supposed to be…we’re stilling waiting on our first egg), and for others they could be meat. I found myself feeling so sad, the same empty feeling you have in your stomach after your dog dies or your cat runs away-that feeling of loss and sadness. But I felt a tug of practicality… the reminder that this is a part of life-animals eat other animals, it’s all a system. Plus, if these chickens were a real source of income for us, it’d also be the reminder that there is work to be done, the rest of the chickens need to be kept alive. As a farmer, they’re safety and life is your source of income, and without them you have nothing. Same goes for crops. It’s your responsibility as a farmer to keep your crops alive, to make sure they stay hydrated and healthy, and if they die….then you just lost money. But yet, when you think about that, is all of that really within your realm of control? No…not all. A farmer’s future isn’t really in his or her hands entirely…mother nature has got one hand on it too. And that for a farmer means that future success is resting on the risk of pure chance. And that I guess is the name of the game…

Thinking Like a Farmer…

Early this morning as we silently farmed, the sun slowly rising above our heads, tiny mosquitos buzzing relentlessly in our ears, there was a certain peace enveloping us into the land. Maybe we weren’t talking because we were just too tired (college students up and working at 6…that is rare I suppose), but I also found myself not wanting to shatter the silence. Sitting in the dirt, rubbing its softness in between my fingers, feeling the sun warming my back, hearing the chickens making their daily ruckus, planting new life into the soil… you stop thinking about yourself IN the environment. You stop seeing a separation between you and the land. Rather, you and the land bond together in a relationship – a cooperation. You work for the land, and the land works for you.

As I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal Vegetable Miracle,” I’ve been reflecting on our work on the farm a great deal. The book is magnificent, but I’m sure that if I were reading it as someone who was not currently farming everyday, or as someone who had never set foot on a farm, the experience would be entirely different. Farming changes your perspective.

Weather is no longer that annoying topic  that forces you to change your social plans for the day – it’s your savior and your nemesis all wrapped up in one. It’s not a matter of wanting or wishing for certain weather, but rather NEEDING that certain weather – needing it to rain after far too many dry days, or needing the monsoon rains to stop.  It’s a matter of growing crops and making money – it’s your income and your life. And while we at STOGROW are not living as true farmers living solely on the profit made from our harvest, we do definitely get a preview of what life is like when you choose a career in agriculture and gain a new appreciation for our food that most consumers completely disregard when they’re searching the produce section at the grocery store.

As a farmer, I can no longer walk through the produce section of a grocery store and simply admire the beauty of the fruits and vegetables. Instead the thoughts running through my head sound something like “Hhmm…where in the world is this in season right now? How far did this have to travel to get to here, and how long ago was it harvested?” Or, “Wow, this must be a GMO for sure…Should I really be buying this non-organic pepper? The organic ones right over there…” After having a taste of the agricultural industry, you have new views, new appreciations, new struggles, new complaints. Growing produce isn’t easy. It’s a lot of work – and I mean manual labor type work. And yet people complain (including myself…) that often times the prices for produce, especially organic, is far too high. But yet, when you think about it, it’s not. It’s probably still far too low! The price you’re paying is for everything that went into that one piece of food – and often times that is hour upon hour of work and care. The price you’re paying is supplying someone’s income. And it’s the  price necessary to avoid sending your money off to large industrial agricultural companies like Monsanto that are dominating our world, our food and our farmers’ lives and their wallets.

We as Americans have become so detached from our food and our land. Most people never even think about where their food comes from, what it’s made of, and what went into making it. If everyone spent just one morning at a small farm working outside, listening to the natural world chattering around them, feeling the sun-warmed soil under their  feet, I think we all could gain a new perspective – a perspective that will maybe slowly lead to the food revolution we so desperately need. If everyone could just think about what they buy and  try to support their local farmers, this revolution can surely happen. It’s already starting…Buy local. Buy organic. Do either, do both. Do it every day, do it once a week. Just try it.