A Local Farmer goes to Washington
Leaving the farm is not something that one gets to do too much when the farming season is happening. It is hard to leave behind all the weeds that need weeded animals that need feed, and all the great food that we produce. Having someone else’s eggs never can match up to what we have here on the farm. But having a great support net of employees, interns, and my wife I was able to get away.
I went to capital hill, the capital hill in D.C. (which is not much of a hill for Colorado standards). I went to lobby for all sorts of provisions in the upcoming farm bill that affect beginning farmers. I was part of a ‘fly-in’ put on by the main lobbying arm of dozens of sustainable agriculture non-profits and interest groups NSAC (National Sustainable Agriculture Committee). I was one of sixteen farmers that for two days went from congressional office to Senate office handing out a near final piece of legislation to try and garner support and sponsors on both sides of the hill for this piece of legislation being introduced within a month or so.
There are many parts of the farm bill that originate as their own bill and eventually get swept up into the farm bill, which theoretically is happening in 2012, but that is unlikely to happen. It is possible that it could happen this year, but most likely is that it will happen in 2013. The Beginning Farmer Opportunity Act of 2011 that we were selling, and we really were selling the idea, is something that is new to the last farm bill. There were always a few little things about beginning farmers in the farm bill. When the last farm bill in 2008 was passed it had a comprehensive list of things that can help farmers get going.
Most of these things are taking programs and departments that already exist and make them recognize beginning farmers as a particular sect of farmers that need special attention. The average age of a farmer these days is someone well into their 60’s. Most new farmers are trying to buy land as they have not inherited it, and land prices across the country are not usually based on the price of land for agriculture but instead on other factors. And those are just a couple of reasons that giving beginning farmers a hand makes sense, and oddly enough is something that has bipartisan support, as we learned shopping this bill around the corridors of congress.
The best part of the trip was learning that one can just go into these offices and tell them what you think, and that through a coordinated effort sustainable and organic agriculture does have a voice in Washington however small it may be. I am sure I passed people in the halls of congress who were there lobbying for genetically engineered foods or subsidies for corn, soy and cotton. But on that day we were looking out for young farmers who will be the future of our food supply.
By the time I got home I was ready to become a full fledge potlitico. But once I turned down the drive and saw how much the tomatoes had grown in jut two days, and had the taste of a farm fresh egg I knew that the world of capital hill is best left to someone else, and thank god there are those who can do it for us small farmers. I will tend the farm and hope they remember we are all out here making a new agriculture happen. Nowhere is it as flourishing as in our little valley.
The best of plans
The best of plans, ah remember winter? It is not really that hard since it is still cold, snowy, muddy, and the mountains are covered in white. Winter, the time when the hope spring runs eternal right? Seed catalogs lull us into thinking that growing anything is possible. And we order that seed and make the best of plans. The problem with farming, and especially farming in Western Colorado is that plans are just that a plan. But farming deals with weather and with weather comes the theory of chaos. And out the window goes the plans.
So many businesses start the engine up and turn the machine on and they crank out widgets. Farming does not quite work like normal business. We are subject to the normal ups and downs of economies, inflations, gas prices, etc, but also consistently year in year out, the weather. And as weather gets weirder farming does too.
We have not been in the valley long enough to know, but after eight years one would think that we would have experienced a normal year, but according to the ‘old timers’ there have been no normal years since our arrival. Despite this difficulty each year we farmers make plans. Usually grandiose plans, but without plans where would we be?
This year, as you may have noticed it has been the cold and wet that has changed the (I assure you) best laid plans. It is a refreshing change from the wild winds, desiccating fronts of Utah sand, and cold (though there has been some of that too). We can never complain about rain in the desert west. But it has made it difficult to see those plans to fruition. Soon I assure you people will be complaining about the oppressive heat. So enjoy the rainy and cloudy and cool days.
But let me tell you what has happened to those plans. The bad news is that you should not expect tomatoes too early, but it is still too early to tell really. They would like to be in the ground but instead find themselves still sequestered away in the greenhouse. But lets be honest hot crops in western Colorado are really a luxury. Of course there are those high tunnel tomatoes that look great, so all hope is not lost.
This year one thing we did right was plant lots of peas and favas. They are doing great and loving this cool wet spring. W love these crops as they fix nitrogen while producing a crop that we can never have enough of according to our customers. Those who do the picking would disagree. But once they are picked and returned to the soil the ground is no worse the wear.
Lettuce and bok choy have also loved this weather and are growing well. A few months back they were only in the greenhouse but now have been allowed a chance in the real world, and are prospering with the cooperative weather. We actually do have some tomatoes in the field but they are continually covered up and do not seem to be growing. They seem to almost resent us for having placed them into such an inhospitable environment after the relative warm of the propagation house.
The best laid plans may come to fruition yet, as the spring of hope still pours forth. It is a well that runs deep on any ground farmed. Without that well, farming and food would revert back to a society of scavengers. With hope we will certainly do better than that, but it is just unpredictable what will do the best this year. It certainly seems as different year to year as the weather.
Thanks to my ornithologist Uncle Alan we have a new Kestrel box up here at the farm. We are always looking for new ways to encourage life to allow other life to prosper. Kestrels are known for their voracious appetite of field mice and we hope lots of grasshoppers. So far a male has found the box and begun calling. A female was hanging around on a wire close by, but they have not moved in yet. I thought some candle light and chocolate might help, but with the spring winds decided against it!
Other critters have begun to arrive such as the lacewings that we use in our greenhouses. They come in bags from a bug lab and we spread them out, actually the oat hulls that they are living on when we get them throughout our greenhouses. Then they pupate and eat all sorts of other bugs such as aphids that we do not want. It is helpful to have the greenhouses to release them into as they can survive despite the cold. They can be released into the field later in the season, but they do not always stay where they are put, so we use the greenhouses as a way to inoculate the rest of the farm.
Also many perennials are beginning to push through where the snow has finally melted. Over the years we have planted many perennials. Some of them with an eye for what they can attract into the garden. Many have multiple uses, such as yarrow which can be used as a medicinal plant, as a cut flower either fresh or dried, and as an attractant of beneficial insects. Yarrow flowers have the key characteristic of very small flowers. The beneficial insects are attracted to those small flowers. The Apiacecae family or the Umbell family, flowers who look like an umbrella of little flowers are the ones to go for. Think about cilantro, dill, parsley, and fennel all are great for attracting the right insects.
These types of plants can be incorporated into a general plan of wild farming an idea made popular by Dan Imhoff who wrote a book titled, Farming with the Wild. The idea is to create areas that allow for the wild in your farm. Since we have a lot of deer fence around our place we try in other ways than creating wild life corridors. We have been planting hedgerows around our farm, and try to include shrubs and perennials that will provide homes for birds, and bugs that are all good for our farm, from a functional and esthetic standpoint.
So as you plan for the plants to put in that empty space in your garden try to take a holistic look at garden planning. Elderberries are a great shrub that offers flowers for attracting good bugs and great berries for syrup later that is known for keeping the flu away. Spireas are another shrub with great flowers for bugs. There are many resources on the web and try to think of nectar sources for the whole season. Also think about a bat house for keeping those mosquitoes at bay. It may take a few years for them to move in but once they do they consume a lot of those summertime nuisances.
As we wait for the Kestrels to move into their new home I am keeping those pesky starlings away with a bit of gun powder and bb’s. My Uncle would not have it any other way. It is exciting to invite so much biodiversity into our farm. It is with biology that we farm, not in spite of it. We put up with the good and the bad that biology has and constantly try to tip the balance in our favor.
As you drive around the valley these days it is not uncommon to see piles of steaming newborn claves in the predawn fields. Considering some of the low temperatures it is always amazing that these little creatures can survive. It is with baited breath that we too have been waiting for our first newborns of the year. Our little piles are really little since we raise goats and sheep.
Our first goat May gave birth successfully to four babies, a first for our farm. We run out in the morning at first light to check and see if anyone is in labor, as they often have babies first thing in the morning. But yesterday they waited for the weather to warm and then went into labor. Over the course of an hour May had birthed her four babies, cleaned them off and they had all stood up and at least tried to find the teat.
Goats are amazing birthers as they have never needed our help in all the years we have had them. Occasionally we have to help the kids find the teat, but once they know where it is that problem is quickly resolved. Our impatience with them usually gets in the way as we want to get involved. But we have learned to just hang back and watch the miracle of life, which it truly is, unfold in front of us.
The sheep are not always so eloquent in their birthing. We have had to get involved and help pull out animals or get them pointing the right way, save them with a tube of milk into their belly and bottle feed the lambs. Usually we end up with a lamb crying in our bathroom for a night every year. Helps to keep us from wanting more children though!
We tend to have our animals birth early in the year since we get so busy in the spring with our plant babies that we do not have time for the animals. Of course this takes good planning back last August, the timing of which is always a work in progress. Many of the farmers who raise animals have them give birth at a certain time of year in order to have the right size animal for the market it is intended for.
We have our animals so we can have out own meat, milk, cheese, and compost makings. It is our time consuming hobby. But the values that the animals add to our farm are also immeasurable. They help to complete the cycle of life with in the farm organism, which is good to remember when we have to break their icy water in the morning, shovel their manure, or any of the other unpleasant chores they entail.
When the first babies finally come signifies the coming of spring, and the beginning of the next cycle. So as you drive around the valley and see the hopping little calves in the fields or some baby chicks arrive in them mail, celebrate the miracle that shows us the world keeps going in spite of us. A new year has arrived.
In January it is always hard to tear myself away from the warmth of the morning fire to trudge through the snow and ice to feed the animals. But they are always so happy to see me. So I am reminded of my connection to life, to caring for life which does not take weekends off or Christmas breaks. Each day this life forges ahead, even through snow and ice.
After checking on the animals I walk to the greenhouse to check on the greens which despite negative temperatures for several days have persevered. This greenhouse is not ideal it has holes, and all sorts of flaws but the greens tucked under their remay blankets have survived. Lettuce, arugula, kale, bok choy, spinach, green onions, carrots, cilantro, and a few radishes all have survived our nights of -12. It is amazing, really simply amazing to care for these plants of strong will. With such cold temps and some cloudy days watering only happens a couple of times a month right now, so I close the door and head back towards the fire.
Walking back by the fields they seem so clean with a fresh layer of snow on top. It is the blank slate of a coming year upon which we will seed and transplant. It is these seeds that I return to the fire to contemplate. As we plan another season we turn to these catalogs to seeks new varieties, new crops, or to review our inventory of old friends. As a certified organic farm I have to prove that I have looked high and low to find certified organic seed, which does not always exists. So I usually have a minimum of five different catalogs to look through. Often there are several more, which is really just an indulgence, but after all we do this because we love it.
I have several different catalogs that I love and each for its own reason. I love Johnny’s Seeds catalog for its business like approach to seeds. The description of how many seeds you need to plant 100 row feet or an acre, the detailed description of how to grow each crop is something that comes in handy all season long. Fedco is another favorite. This catalog has no pretty pictures but rather drawings and descriptions as if from another era, an era us farmers think about often. But to read a description of a certain variety of vegetable in the Fedco catalog is dangerous as you will want to try them all. Another favorite is Seed Savers Exchange. This is a company responsible for saving many Heirloom seeds, and then bringing them to the public. The pictures are great and you can find things here that are hard to find anywhere else. The most extravagant seed catalog is Baker’s Creek. They have more unusual varsities than almost any other company and there are big luscious pictures of tomatoes, winter squash, and things you did not even know exists such as African wild melons to name one.
Relishing the catalogs is the easy part. Deciding what to actually buy is the harder part. Over the years we have developed a system that takes into account the beds, the length of the beds we plant, the seed we have on hand, the germination rate, the spacing between plants, the day we want to plant it out, if it is direct seeded or transplanted, and then all the info we need to actually order them from the catalogs. It is a process that we refine each year. Since this is our business we need to be exacting about how we do this. If you are buying for the home then the main thing to remember is the cheapest part about growing is the seeds.
So keep that fire warm and curl up with you favorite catalogs, and start dreaming of the summer, that’s what I am doing!
Things here at the farm are underway again. Seedlings are pop up out of the soil. Letuce is being harvest. Favas have been seeded and the snow is beginning to melt. It has been a cold winter this year so as we stayed warm by the fire we have been dreaming up some great things here at the farm. The most important is that we will be expanding our nursery offerings this year. Check it out on our new tab for the NURSERY! We have some great folks joining us this year so come by and meet the new crew. We also hope to have a great band come and play the farm too! So stay tuned in to find out all the goings ons here at Zephyros.
The wind and rain and cold has made this spring an unusually long one, that has reminded me more of winter then the coming summer. Up early with a plan that might not be derailed by weather comes as a suprise. Perhaps we will even get some tomatoes in the groudn without having them be frozen or blown over. The choas of spring rules on a farm. Set on the backdrop of the sun rising and the birds signing helps to bring balance between our human world and the natural world.
The beginning of a new season has earnestly begun here at Zephyros. Whenever you look out and see the lambs bounding across the field, with hints of green peaking through the pastures laid flat from the weight of snow you know spring is here. Now that the days are longer than the nights things are sure to take off as the plants always notice this occasion. Evidence can be found in the perennials first as they begin to swell and send up new shoots awakened from their winter slumber. Plants all over the farm begin to peak through the soil.
We are busy planting seeds of things to come. We planted our first peas and cut flower seeds last week right between a few days of brilliant sun and the return of winter. We will try to do it again this week as the balance between spring and winter shift back and forth wildly.
We have lots of great things planed here at the farm this year so stay tuned and check back for plant sales, farm dinners, and other special events. If you are nearby and want to join our CSA sign up soon!
Happy Spring to all!
This year the freeze of fall has come fast and furious. It all started so slow that to have it all killed dead by frost so early makes it hard to believe that it really is the day and time that it is. Already the nights are slightly longer than the days. The hills are covered by snow and the valley floor is a blaze of golden yellows and burnt orange. Amazing how quickly our thoughts turn to the next season. That is a must on the farm as now is the time that we can do things that will make next spring more smooth and successful. So as we remove the dead and plant the cover crops we take note of the good and the bad of this past year. Every year is different so we try to compare but Mother Nature makes it difficult to ever compare apples to apples, even if they are apples!
A huge thanks goes out to all those who shopped at our farmer market stands, participated in our CSA, and worked on the farm. We could not do it without all of your support and hard work. A special thanks to Karl, Caryn, Karina and Siwar without whom this season would not have been possible, thanks.
When summer sets in on our farm everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. Spring has been a time of furious planting, watching the weather for rains and late freezes. But when summer comes, which is never truly here until June, (and of course we all know it can snow in Colorado any time), the true time of enjoyment comes with the long warm days, and the literal fruits of our labor.
What is truly amazing about summer on a farm like ours is how the minute plants grow overnight into big productive plants, with flowers bursting and the promise of ripe fruit to harvest. This is especially noticeable around the time of solstice, the longest day of the year and true beginning of summer. Once the days begin to get shorter plants change how they are growing. Almost overnight they go from little seedlings to plants full with fruits in the form of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, and so many beautiful flowers and seed heads.
As the summer goes along it is the tiny fruits that grow from an imperceptible speck of into two pound heirloom tomatoes that never ceases to amaze me. It happens so fast that I am sometimes stopped in my tracks at the surprise of how there is fruit where there once was only a seed. We continue to seed all summer, such as our haricot vert and shell beans, so we relive this experience again and again.
Harvesting our many different types of flowers we grow every week I am amazed how some of them keep pushing new flowers to be enjoyed all summer. Some like our sunflowers grow so rapidly to make one huge beautiful bloom. In the matter of weeks it goes from a seedling that we looked down at to towering above my daughters head, and she is truly amazed at the rapid progress her little seedlings make in the blink of her eye.
As the days continue to get shorter, which a farmer begins to notice on June 22nd, the entire garden changes course and the almost imperceptible forces of fall begin pulling the fruit forth in rapid succession. The days of spring are recalled when time sped up due to the lengthening days, where all was a flurry of activity to get all the seedlings going, culminates in the deep breath of summer solstice. Making it to that point in the year takes an incredible amount of energy, which makes harvesting the fruits and flowers in the field so rewarding.
And as fall can be felt coming in the shortening days of August the farm too slows down, just a bit. We begin to plant greens again for a fall harvest just as we had been in spring. It is these cycles of plants and planting, seed to seed, that keep us connected to the cycles of the seasons in a deep and rooted way, one that holidays like the ones marking ‘the beginning’ and ‘the end’ of summer cannot.