Dig Deeper


Farm Photo Friday: August 8, 2014

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute!

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Your 2 Cents Grant Recipient: Sarah of Diggin’ Roots

Tell me a little bit about Diggin’ Roots.

We purchased our land in August 2012 after looking for a property for close to 5 years. At that point it was just my husband and I, and a year and a half ago our son was born. It’s about 60 acres and south of Portland, we bought it because we both wanted to pursue our dreams of farming. We’d been farming for a couple of years on a small urban lot and we were looking forward to getting out of the city. It took a lot of cleanup since it had been a family farm decades ago but no one had lived here for years. So in those first few days after we moved onto the farm, we planted garlic, and then one of our first projects to tackle was to take the 35 tillable acres we had and turn 32 of them into organic pasture. It’s been a crazy process, but it was conventionally managed for years and the whole system was just so out of balance. After we had the first year under our belt, we could feel a little more confident, but we’re careful with the soils. They’re good soils but they’re sensitive, so we have to be really careful about cultivation; we’re trying to add as much organic matter as we can through cover crop and compost.

Did you come from a farming family or did you get into later in life?

Not at all. I grew up in the San Francisco bay area and my husband grew up near Lake Tahoe. We met at UC Davis, where my love of food put me in touch with agriculture. I just fell in love with it and the potential lifestyle of being a farmer. Conner likes to say that while we were there, I studied agriculture and he studied me. After that, we decided we wanted to try it and worked at a couple of farms and both of us have been active in agriculture in and around Portland. The only reason we were able to look for property is because my dad helped us buy it. He’s a part-owner in the property, which is just amazing. We are so grateful for that support.

Tell me more about your path from knowing you wanted to farm to actually owning your own farm.

I studied farming at school and worked at an organic farm on campus, and Conner and I had gardened. I also spent some time abroad on an organic farm in Costa Rica. After graduating, we thought we should really give it a try somewhere. We took management positions at a bed and breakfast in Washington that wanted to start a farm. We did that for a season and it was really challenging. The owner didn’t know much about farming and was pretty unrealistic. He bankrolled the whole thing and we got to learn a lot just by making mistakes and learning things the hard way. That was a really great experience and in some ways it started it all. We spent that time working with someone who didn’t know much about farming and it made us realize that we really could do it on our own.

We lived in Portland for five years, both doing a number of jobs with local nonprofits, and all the while we were looking for land. We eventually found it and are so happy that we did. Farming for us is a lot more than a 9-5 job. It’s a lifestyle and it’s about being out in a rural community away from the city. We can just walk outside and be in touch with our natural rythms and our food.

I think both of us look at farming a lot like a creative endeavor. I really believe that it is. Farms are crafted with so many personal touches. Every decision about how your systems are designed and operated is unique: what management systems you use, what you chosose to grow, and how you grow it. Once you know the technical design, everything else is really a personal creation. Conner and I were really interested in creating something together and investing in it and living a life around it.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced starting your own farm? And how did you overcome them?

A few years ago, I would’ve probably said acquiring land. Its not that there wasn’t land out there, it’s that it was difficult to find good land that was relatively affordable. That was a challenge, but I can’t complain too much because we’ve been incredibly lucky with getting loans and help from family. We’ve been given very fair and generous terms and we’ve heard from older farmers that they’d rather go into debt from the start like we did and set up systems rather than spend money later. We put a lot up front, but I hope that it will pay off.

One of the other things we’re constantly struggling with and probably will be for rest of our lives is that there is always more to do. Fifty acres will take many years to grow into and that’s overwhelming at times. A lot of the land was overgrown when we first moved here. There is a lot of work we need to do that isn’t related to production and won’t make money, but it’s important for us to spend time on. We want to make sure we’re taking care of pastures we’ve established, fixing buildings, installing irrigation, and doing all of these other incredibly big projects. It’s easy to see how much more work there is to do, but we have to step back and look at what we’ve already accomplished.

What has been the most rewarding part of purchasing your own farm?

Harvesting food and sharing it with the community and our family and friends is by-far one of the best parts. It’s so wonderful to be able to share food with people. Our CSA members come to farm with kids and they know vegetables that most adults in this country probably couldn’t identify, which is awesome. The other part is just being able to appreciate this land and what it’s capable of and being able to steward it. It’s a real privilege that we feel very fortunate to be able to have. Also, things like rebuilding soil and clearing invasives. It feels really good to be able to do things like that because even though we don’t necessarily see changes overnight, we know those are things we’re chipping away at and improving.

Why organic?

I studied organic agriculture in school and was brought up with values for the environment and nature, so conventional agriculture was never something I wanted to do. One of the most pivotal experiences I had was reading a book called Hope’s Edge (by Frances Moore Lappe). At the time, I was majoring in community development and my dad gave me the book. That was the first time I heard about Monsanto and patenting seeds and the challenges of the global food system and the distribution of food and genetic engineering – everything that’s wrong with our food system. That really struck a chord with me and I really saw a problem with it. I’ve always appreciated food and cooking and the book and its message resonated with me and turned me towards agriculture.

What are the biggest issues facing farmers today?

There are so many, but finances are always a struggle for farmers. We work really, really hard  and yet it can be challenging to be financially sustainable. Another one of the biggest issues for farmers in our country is the increasing average age of farmers and how many new farmers we need. Conner and I have been so fortunate with the support we’ve received, but hundreds of other young farmers have passion and experience but not access to a farm for one reason or another. That’s something that we really need to figure out as a country or we’re going to be in trouble.

For organic famers, we need a lot more support, and that can come in a number of different ways. There’s a great need for more research and data collection about organic farms so we can increase our production and management and systems as much, if not more so, than all of the conventional farms out there that have tons of reseach dollars to support their strategies. But there are a lot of farmers who are opting not to get certified because they don’t see it as valuable, and while I completely respect that, it really impacts the numbers of the organic movement. People who use organic practices but aren’t certified aren’t counted. So when it comes to research, I’m not sure we’re really getting enough to support the farms we have out there.

Given the research that has been done, though, organic is doing incredibly well. If we got half as many research dollars as conventional farming does, I think organic would exceed everyone’s expectations for yield and productivity. I’m not sure how we go about getting that, but we need to. The current agriculture of the United States is just not sustainable, but organic is a step in the right direction.

What do you think is the most hopeful or exciting thing happening in the organic food and farming community right now?

I feel like there’s just so much passion behind it. A handful of famers are in it for the money, but most of us are in it for bigger reasons. In some way or another, we see it as a form of advocacy and action and a soution to some of the problems that are facing us today. When you are approaching something from a place of positivity and hope, it’s just an amazing force for bringing people together and forming a farming community around it. It’s such a neat movement and I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of it.

What made you apply for the Your 2 Cents grant and how do you see it helping your business?

I saw the announcement about the organic seed fund in your e-newsletter and Conner and I are really commited to using organic seed. We’ve been involved with and aware of the Organic Seed Alliance and feel passionately about the interaction of our farm and what supports us. Organic seed is certainly a part of that. It’s more expensive, so the grant was very helpful in helping us purchase it without going into debt. It really helped us prioritize buying from our local organic seed operation this year. There’s a lot to be said for regionally bred varieties, but these small companies have to charge more than than the bigger organic seed suppliers. We now have awesome varieties growing this year and it’s been great to support a smaller organic company. We’ve planted three kinds of cauliflower and three kinds of broccoli and it’s been great to compare those and see what works best on our farm.

Toledo’s Water Crisis Starts with the Soil

220px-Runoff_of_soil_&_fertilizerBy Coach Mark Smallwood
Follow Coach’s blogs posts at Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen and EcoWatch

Lake Erie was poisoned by chemical agriculture. Naturally, the headlines are making people nervous about water supplies – and rightly so. However, what is not making the headlines is that this problem with our water actually starts with the soil.

Widespread use of synthetic fertilizers caused the chemical run-off into Lake Erie, cutting off the supply of drinking water to over 400,000 residents. The ban on drinking public water has been lifted – for now.

Toledo’s problem could soon become an issue for the vast majority of Americans whose lives depend on public drinking water, however, if agriculture in the U.S continues to use synthetic chemicals. Clean drinking water will become scarce if chemical farming practices continue to leach excess nitrogen and phosphorous into the water.

Rodale Institute is one of the only organizations in the U.S. that conducts independent research on agricultural practices. As early as the 1940’s, Rodale Institute founder J.I. Rodale noted that “Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People.” Current circumstances might have inspired him to also acknowledge that “Healthy Soil = Healthy Water = Healthy People.”

Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial has over 30 years of research, comparing organic and conventional agriculture – including impact on water systems. The results clearly demonstrate the destructive impact that agricultural chemicals have on soil health and water.

Through growing organic and conventional, side by side, our trials showed that water volumes in soil were 15 to 20% higher in the organic systems than the conventional. In organic farming systems, healthy soil absorbs rain, recharging the groundwater supply and leaving the soil in the field – where it belongs. On farms where the soil microbiology has been poisoned with synthetic chemicals, the soil cannot hold the rainwater and so the result is chemical run-off and soil erosion, sending the agricultural pollutants running off the surface – into Lake Erie, for example – taking the contaminated soil with it.

Algae blooms like those in Lake Erie reveal nature’s balancing act. For anyone in Toledo who dared to drink the water during the ban, they could expect vomiting and illness. Lake Erie is essentially responding in the same way to the agricultural run-off.

Chemicals on most farms are most easily moved throughout our ecosystem by water, and when the water picks these toxins up, they spread easily. The algal blooms in Lake Erie are just one recent example of how this can happen. We’ll need to work faster to help farmers transition to regenerative organic farming practices to preserve the purity of our water – for we will not last long without it.

We must focus on the health of the soil, as it is inseparable from the health of our water supply. Quite simply, everything is connected; water, soil, air, animal life, human health, and of course our food. We can correct many of the problems by transitioning global agricultural activity to regenerative organic practices, ensuring that clean water, and all our other life-giving resources, will remain healthy and accessible to all.

Your 2 Cents Grant Recipient: Shannon of Broadfork Farm

Broadfork Farm is a small-scale organic farm started in March 2011. Owners Bryan Dyck and Shannon Jones are young farmers who both work full-time on the farm, year-round on a 15 acre farm they purchased in November 2011 (prior to this, growing on leased land). During the 2013 season, their farm moved from being in-transition to a fully certified organic farm (by Ecocert Canada). They grow mixed vegetables, herbs, cut flowers, some fruit, transplants, and have started to expand their vegetable seed production in order to have access to more organic seed and to select seed that works well in organic systems. A small flock of laying hens is raised as well as honeybees. Broadfork Farm is also a certified Bee Friendly Farm.

Tell me a little bit about Broadfork Farm.

Broadfork is a small-scale organic farm. We primarily make a living from vegetables, but we also grow and sell fruit, seed crops, cut flowers and herbs.

Did you come from a farming family or did you get into later in life?

The first time I worked on a farm I was 21, but I already knew I wanted to be at a farmer. Of course, at that point, I didn’t really know what that meant! I was drawn to farming because I studied nutrition and I started to think a lot about the things that were healthy for people; things like fresh food, clean air and water, sunshine, physical exercise. They were all a part of my own lifestyle and I wanted to be able to go beyond making myself healthy and contribute an element of health to others.

After realizing that I wanted to farm, I spent a number of years focused on building production skills. Eventully, as I realized all of the things besides production that farming entails, I knew I needed to gain more knowledge when it came to marketing and business. Apprenticing meant I was able to learn a lot skills from the farmers I worked with, especially financial management skills. Then, right before Bryan and I started our own farm, we took a farm business management course and learned the kinds of things we needed to direct-market our small-scale farm.

Tell me more about your path from knowing you wanted to farm to actually owning your own farm.

I apprenticed and volunteered and interned first and then moved into positions with more responsibility such as a farm manager and field manager. My partner, Bryan, spent his first year apprenticing, his second year co-managing a CSA, and his third year on an incubator farm where he ran a CSA on another farmer’s land. He learned infrastructure and managing and, after that, we started our farm. We started on leased land our first year and then bought a farm of our own.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced starting your own farm? And how did you overcome them?

Even though we were trying to run a business in that first year, we were still learning all of the things small businesses require, and that was challenging. Also, we had to learn how to work together. We had to figure out how to balance our different working and management styles, and I would say we’re still learning how to do that.

In the beginning, we were converting land we purchased from a hay field to a vegetable farm, and that was also pretty difficult. Neither of us had any expeience working on a farm in its first year. Converting was especially challenging since we also needed to make a living that first year. We didn’t have a huge amount of savings and neither of us had other jobs. We really struggled with wanting to create something that was going to be long-term, but also something that would provide us money in the short-term.

We also spent a lot of time trying to figure out appropriate investments on tools, equipment and infrastructure. At this stage in our lives, we don’t really have a huge amount to work with, so we’re still trying to be as smart and strategic with our money as possible.

What has been the most rewarding part of owning your own farm?

One really big reward has been the sense of rootedness that we feel in our community. We get a strong sense that the customers we have now will be long-term customers. I know Bryan and I both grew pretty attached to the customers we had while leasing land and while working on other farms, but we no longer get to see those people. Now, the people we see on a weekly basis and at the farmers’ market are people we will hopefully be seeing for a long time – possibly the rest of our lives. That feeling is really good.

It’s also really rewarding to know that we can take a long-term approach to everything we do. It was hard to put a lot of money into the soil when we only had a one-year lease. We didn’t feel like we could really build infrastructure.

I’m also looking forward to being able to observe the land through the years. This is a property we’re going to learn more and more about every year, and kind of peel off its layers and get a deeper connection to the land. That excites and inspires me.

Why organic?

Before I was an organic farmer I was an organic consumer. I’ve been pretty passionate about the environment from a young age, and I grew to be more passionate about human and environmental health in general as I grew older. I have been devoted to eating organic food for a long time, so when I decided I wanted to be a farmer, it was always clear that I would be an organic farmer. I’d never grow food that I wouldn’t want to eat.

What are the biggest issues facing farmers today?

I feel pretty strongly about issues related to young and new farmers. When we were first looking for a place to buy, it was really hard to find land that was affordable. Farmers would tell us they would like to sell their land to us at a cheaper price, but that it’s their retirement fund. When farmers invest in their land, that land takes on a huge value of its own. If they can sell it to someone for more money, that’s what they’re going to do. That makes sense, but it really makes it diffiult to get into farming.

How people perceive the value of food, especially compared to the value of other services, is a big issue. For example, a massage might cost $100 per hour and people are willing to pay that. But the amount of produce that we have to grow to make $100 takes much more than an hour (or two hours or three hours) of work. I understand food access issues are huge. And when people talk about food access, they mean cost. But why is it people are willing to settle for low-quality food instead of cutting in other areas? High-quality food should be more important than things like cable TV or cell phones. Food shouldn’t be the place where people either choose to or are forced to make cuts.

What do you think is the most hopeful or exciting thing happening in the organic food and farming community right now?

So many new farmers are really interested in growing organic. That gives me a lot of hope for the future. Also, people in general are starting to care about what they’re putting into their bodies and their children’s bodies. They’re doing research on their own and getting a better idea of what food production today looks like. They’re trying to understand what goes on at farms, and that is really beautiful. I think people are starting to get excited about preparing food again and making things from scratch. People being excited about fresh and healthy and even unusual foods, and experimenting in the kitchen is inspiring to me. The passion that organic farmers and organic customers have is really incredible. That leaves me hopeful about the rest of my farming career.

What made you apply for the Your 2 Cents grant and how do you see it helping your business?

Organic seeds are just becoming a big thing for us. We want to consider the background of the seed we’re using and the management techniques that were used to grow it. That all affects how it will do on our farm, so it’s important to us that they are grown using organic practices. It can be difficult to choose organic seeds, though, especially with certain crop varieties, because of price and availability. Organic seeds are not nearly as easy to get as non-organic, but we really think that supporting the organic seed industry is the best way to help it grow. Because of that, we really wanted to purchase only organic, but higher seed costs mean a higher overall bill. The seed grant was really timely for us, because it allowed us to do something for the organic seed industry and for our own farm that we didn’t know was possible when looking at our expenses and the money we had coming in.

What is one tool you couldn’t live without?

My partner, Bryan! I don’t know if he’s exactly a tool, but I couldn’t do any of this without him. I’d also have to say pen and paper, because of the amount of writing and planning I do. I’ve learned that a lot of farming is really about managing. I could live without a lot of tools and make do, but I’d be lost if I couldn’t use those management skills to keep the farm running.

Recipes: Peppers

The Beekman 1802 Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from The Beekman 1802 Vegetable Heirloom Cookbook

4 bell peppers
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 ounces dried chorizo, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
¾ cup small star-shaped pasta or orzo
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 cup water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Remove ¼ inch of the tops of the peppers. Discard the stems and finely chop the pepper tops. Halve the peppers lengthwise, and scoop out and discard the seeds. Drizzle the pepper halves inside and out with 2 tablespoons of the oil and place them cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until crisp-tender. If you like, remove the pepper skins.

Meanwhile, ina medium saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and chopped pepper tops and cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender, Stir in the chorizo, pasta, tomatoes, water, salt, and smoked paprika and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente.

Spoon the mixture into the pepper halves and serve.

***

Chiles Rellenos
Adapted from From Asparagus to Zucchini

Cut this recipe in half for a nice side dish! My kids love this!

Whole or halved hot or semi-hot chiles (Hungarian wax, Anaheim, Poblano, jalepenos, etc)
Enough to cover bottom of a 7-by13-inch pan
1 lb Monterey Jack cheese, cut into thin strips
5 large eggs
¼ cup flour
1 ¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ lb grated cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon paprika

Seed the chiles. Slip strips of Monterey Jack cheese inside chiles (or sprinkle shredded cheese on top). Beat eggs and gradually add flour, milk, and salt. Arrange chiles in well-greased pan. Sprinkle on the cheddar. Pour on egg mixture. Sprinkle on the paprika. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees, 45 minutes. Makes 6-8 Servings.

***

Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from From Asparagus to Zucchini

A little oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, chopped
3 cups raw brown rice
6 cups water, chicken or vegetable broth, or tomato juice
½ teaspoon allspice
½ cup almonds, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes
¾ lb cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
9 large peppers, tops cut off, seeds removed

Heat oil in large skillet; add and sauté garlic and onions. Add rice and brown about 5 minutes. Add desired liquid and allspice. Cover and cook until rice is done, about 40 minutes. Toast almonds in dry skillet or hot oven several minutes, tossing often. Stir in tomatoes, cheese, almonds, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook peppers in boiling water 2 minutes. Drain and stuff peppers with rice mixture. Bake at 350 degrees, 30 minutes. Makes 9 servings.

Farm Photo Friday: August 1, 2014

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute!

This week, Farm Photo Friday presents…

A Few Fun Farm Fixes!

1

Large crack/hole/abyss in the parking lot?

2

No problem! Just fill it in with fresh asphalt.

3

Voila!  It’s alright if you doubted we could fix it, we won’t asphalt you for that.

4

Do you have dirt on your spring onions? Of course you do! This is a farm, where vegetables grow in the soil!
Luckily, we have hard-working intern Sima Pirooz to wash the soil right off.  Welcome Sima!

5

Sometimes, you can’t identify the weeds you’re pulling up. The solution? Hold the weed very, very closely to your face, and maybe it will… whisper it’s name in your ear?   Unlikely.
Demonstration Garden intern Greg Butler is hoping to identify this weed by it’s smell – we sense that he trusts his nose!

6

Late potato blight has come early this season.  As a certified organic farm, we don’t use synthetic fungicide – but that’s not going to stop Plant Production Specialist Sam Moll from staying vigilant.

7

Using the tractor, Sam cuts off the tops of the potato plants. Think of it as a plant amputation, it saves the potatoes themselves from the blight.

8

What kinds of things might leach into the ground water under a compost pile?
“C’mon, you guys, I am not going in there,” says Compost Production Specialist Rick Carr.
He explains in a very nervous manner that the compost cisterns were built to hold compost leachate, allowing it to be tested.

9

About once a year, the cisterns fill up with leachate and need to be emptied.  The liquid is pumped up and out through the blue hose, transferring it to a series of tanks and natural filtration systems.  Have you ever sniffed compost leachate?  Let’s just say that if you have to work near the blue hose, you may end up with a blue nose.  Phew!

11

Are you a lonely chicken?  Beak up chicken!
All you have to do is dig a nice dust bath to keep parasites away,  do a little dust bath dance, and you’ll have chicken friends flocking to you.

Don’t forget… Show your organic love!

Nestlé Waters’ Journey Toward Zero Waste

nestle_eco_shape_bottle In appreciation of their support, we invite Rodale Institute Business Members to share an article about their work on our website. These articles often include insightful information based on their experience and line of work.  It provides a unique perspective of organic agriculture that we enjoy sharing with our readers.

By Heidi Paul, Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Nestlé Waters North America, Inc.

Adopting a zero-waste mindset in business can pave the way for both environmental and financial wins. But creating a program that balances sustainability and consumer satisfaction takes commitment. (more…)

Halfway Through and Looking Ahead

photo 1_200by Caroline Hampton

When I reflect on my first year as an independent farmer, I feel proud of what I have accomplished. Though I can certainly credit myself for working hard and dedicating much time to my operation, I feel sure that luck has contributed just as much to my successes this season. This taste of early success has certainly hooked me on farming and made me feel that this is the career path that I can and want to continue to pursue. Every season for a farmer is about making it through the current season under changing conditions while thinking ahead to the next season and planning what can be done differently to improve next time around. In the coming months as we near fall, my posts will focus on what lessons I’ve learned and changes I will be making. (more…)

Farm Photo Friday: July 25, 2014

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute!

(more…)