Category: Farm

American Farmer: Community Supported Agriculture

When I was growing up, it wasn’t unusual to know where your food came from. I don’t mean which grocery store or restaurant- I’m talking about food that went from the ground onto your dinner table, I’m talking about farms and farmers, gardens and gardeners. I’ve spent most of my life on a farm, but I know that this isn’t the reality for most Americans.

My social media coordinator Anna Claire really cares about food systems- in fact, that’s one of the reasons we get along best. But she didn’t grow up on a farm, in fact she just started gardening this year. During one of our discussions I suggested she take advantage of a local resource – Heifer Ranch, a division of Heifer International. Located just outside of town, it’s a great place to learn about community supported agriculture and pick up a few pointers for her garden. I thought you might be interested in hearing about it too.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a combination of knowing your farmer, growing your own, and going to a farmer’s market… all in one. At its most basic level, a CSA allows a farmer to offer a certain number of “shares” to the public and in return for buying that share, shareholders receive a box of vegetables (or flowers, eggs, bread, or whatever else was produced at the farm that week) each week throughout the farming season.

The model has taken hold across the nation- tens of thousands of families hold shares in CSAs and in some areas there aren’t enough farms to support the demand. It just so happens that Heifer Ranch has a one acre vegetable garden that serves a CSA of about 60 members that each pay $350 a season, or about $20 a week for a basket of approximately 10 items. Some weeks you’ll get more – when Anna Claire visited the CSA drop-off, shareholders were getting 12 items and a $40 value- and some weeks you’ll get less. But each week you know that you’re getting fresh, typically organic produce because you know your farmer and you know your farm.

And that’s not the only advantage- because you receive only fruits and vegetables that are in season, you get exposed to new vegetables and ways of cooking. And the farmer benefits just as much as the consumer – instead of spending a couple of days a week driving to and sitting at a market just hoping that someone will stop in and buy something, they spend time marketing their food earlier in the season so that when the longer days in the field begin, they don’t have to worry about cash flow because the food is already purchased. Therefore, you’re supporting local business, too.

On the flip side, there is a sense of “shared risk” when it comes to CSAs. When a shareholder buys in, they’re agreeing to accept whatever food is offered. Last year, the Heifer CSA had a tough spell when a flash flood left them cabbage-less after months of tending the garden. CSA baskets for consumers were lighter for the next couple of weeks. This year, there seems to be an endless supply of broccoli, so consumers may be getting more of one thing than they like. But there is a sense of community between the members and the farmers that springs from that shared risk.

Heifer International is a global non-profit that I plan to write more about in the future, but the Ranch itself is what I find most fascinating. The average age of American farmers is 57, but to visit Heifer Ranch it’s easy to see that the face of agriculture is changing. A young man named Ryan heads up the CSA and has two full-time volunteers, Brittany and Kenny. They both are giving a year of unpaid service to learn – and teach – about farming. One of the main projects at the Ranch is to offer sustainable agriculture training to farmers from impoverished areas in the US. Right now, the focus is on Hughes, a one-diner town in the Arkansas Delta. The practices that Heifer is teaching this community were learned and perfected on the Ranch.

Another major task involves teaching young students about food and farming. Groups of students on field trips or summer programs will visit the farm almost every day and part of their visit gets the students’ hands busy harvesting beans or other easy-to-pick items. While the extra help is valued, Brittany, Kenny and Ryan also get the chance to share their farming experiences and teach an even younger generation about knowing where their food comes from. For the rest of their day, Brittany, Kenny and Ryan spend long days in the hot Arkansas summers working to produce healthy crops for the CSA and learn enough to run their own farms, and maybe CSAs, someday soon.

Half of Heifer’s shareholders are new this year, so it’s likely that they’re learning about or getting involved with a CSA for the first time. One new share holder got involved because a close friend swore by it, and now looks forward to trying a new recipe with seasonal vegetables each week. Another woman loves the convenience of the CSA, but also loves that she knows her farmers and is supporting a good cause. It may not be the best option for everyone, but I think a CSA is a great way to support a local food culture and eat well throughout the year.

American Farmer – Soybeans

One benefit of the increasing interest in where our food comes from is the resurgence of the American farmer. Invisible through much of the 20th century, this important player in our history is making a comeback. I say hoorah! There’s a lot we can learn from our farmers.

I am proud to be part of this country’s agricultural heritage. My family has been farming in America since the 1690s and my childhood memories of farm life are reflected in what I’ve created at the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home. Farming culture taught me about the importance of family and community ties and stewardship of the land. I was recently reminded of this while attending the spring livestock show in Little Rock.

In Arkansas we have close to 50,000 farms and 13.8 million acres of farmland*. There aren’t many degrees of separation between the people and farming here. Our three “king crops” are rice, cotton and soybeans. While rice is still our number one producer, soybeans hold their own. Almost 50% of our cropland is planted with soybeans, which contributes a billion dollars to our economy annually.

Soybeans are a relatively new crop for Arkansas. Early in the 20th century they were planted as a forage crop plus soybeans replenish nitrogen to the soil. Thanks to George Washington Carver, he discovered the value of soybean protein and soybean oil so then planting soybeans became more popular all over the U.S. However, it wasn’t until after WW II that farmers here started taking them more seriously. The attraction? Soybeans are a low risk crop with a good return. They grow well without irrigation; are a useful rotation crop that adds nitrogen back to the soil; and don’t require as much fertilizer as rice or cotton.

Right now we’re in the middle of soybean planting season in Arkansas – mid-April through the end of June. On a typical day farmers get out in the fields right after sunrise and come back in after 7 p.m. It’s a 12 hour a day, 6 days a week job during planting season. I don’t envy them the work. How about you?

As with any crop, timing the planting is important. Soybeans are day length sensitive. As soon as the required hours of darkness are reached the plants will begin to bloom. You can almost set your clock by it. Sow too late and the plants will be too spindly to support the blooms.

Back in the day farmers planted ‘Larado’ and ‘Jupiter’ soybeans. Today ‘Maturity Group 4′ soybeans are the norm. The name isn’t as fun, but they produce more with less water and pesticides.

Throughout the fall farmers will be out in the fields harvesting. Soybeans are allowed to dry on the plant before harvest. Seed fields are left longer so the beans can go through cool autumn temperatures.

The next time you cook with vegetable oil or apply lip balm, think about the guy or gal who sowed the seed that grew into the plant that produced the soybean that made that product possible.

Talk Like a Soybean Farmer

Dry Land Acreage – Fields without irrigation. Soybeans are better suited for dry land acreage than rice and cotton.

Maturity Group – Based on latitudinal lines across the U.S., maturity groups indicate with a soybean will flower. The lower the group number (i.e. maturity group 4) the sooner the beans are harvested.

Plant Behind – A crop that follows another when rotating crops. Farmers plant soybeans behind rice and cotton because soybeans add nitrogen to the soil and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

Seed Field – Soybean crops planted for seed production. Usually planted later in the year so the beans can experience the colder fall temperatures.

*http://www.agclassroom.org/

The Chicks are Hanging Out

Spring is the season of adorable out at the farm. This week the chicks get first prize for cuteness. They are about 4 days old and starting to show some sass. Jersey Giant, Buff Orpington, Dorking, Wyandotte and New Hampshire are the breeds we’ve hatched.

These pictures beg for captions don’t you think? Well, the folks in the office sure thought so and spent a good deal of time emailing choice chick words; some with visual aids. Check out their suggestions on our Purina Chicken Chat Facebook page.

 

Hobby Farm Dreaming

I was delighted to receive a copy of Julia Rothman’s book Farm Anatomy, The Curious Parts & Pieces of Country Life from Storey Publishing.

You may be familiar with Julia’s illustrations, wall papers, notecards and pattern designs. She has been featured on the blog Design Sponge DesignSponge.com and in magazines such as O At Home, ReadyMade, and Domino.

This book is right up my alley. Not only does the subject matter interest me, but it’s a visual treat. Whether she’s discussing plants to use for
natural dye or how to plow a field, Julia relies on illustrations with just a bit of text to convey the information. This makes otherwise complicated
topics pretty darn easy to understand. Makes me wonder why other books aren’t written this way.

Of course, the clincher for me is the spread on heritage turkey breeds. How can I not love a book that includes heritage turkey breeds?

So how about a copy of Farm Anatomy for your library? Post a comment about what you would raise on a farm for a chance to win Farm Anatomy. A winner has been selected. Thank you to everyone who participated! Love the comments!

Check out more of Julia’s illustrations online at
juliarothman.com & read her book blog at book-by-its-cover.com

Excerpted from Farm Anatomy, text and illustrations (c) by Julia Rothman, used with permission from Storey Publishing.

*Winners limited to the continental U.S.

Deer + Drought = Disappointment

Those of you who have a problem with deer might be surprised to learn that they are actually quite particular about something. That something is where bucks like to rub their antlers to remove the velvet. It seems they are especially fond of young, soft barked trees because their antlers are hyper sensitive when the velvet is shedding. Who knew?!

The deer at the farm have been considerate neighbors, but in late spring the heritage apple orchard turned into a popular “rub spot” for bucks. While this gives me something to watch as I sit on the porch, it’s not a form of entertainment I enjoy because it strips the trees of their bark. No good.

The young bucks affection for our apple trees coupled with a terribly dry summer resulted in the loss of several trees and those that survived produced a paltry number of apples. It’s a disappointment, but the garden is a great teacher in rolling with the punches.

If you are having a better apple year than I am I suggest making this rustic apple tart. I made it last weekend with some apples I picked up at the grocery store. I can only imagine how delicious it would be with homegrown fruits. You’ll have to try it and let me know!

Ingredients

  • ½ cup apple juice
  • 3 cups thinly sliced apples (choose a tart variety)
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup agave syrup
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 premade piecrusts

Directions

Pour the apple juice into a sauce pan and heat until reduced by half.

In a large bowl combine the apple juice, apples, brown sugar, agave syrup, salt and cinnamon. Toss until the apples are well coated.

Lay one pie crust on a greased cookie sheet and crimp the edges to form a lip.

Spread the apple mixture evenly over the pie crust.

Top with a second pie crust. Pinch the edges to seal.

Sprinkle the top with sugar and cinnamon. Pierce with a fork to make vents.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbly.

Sad News from the Farm

It’s with a sad heart that I write that our little Jack Russell x Rat Terrier mix (aka Jack Rat) Lucky passed away this week.

He and his sister Angel have been a part of the goings on at the Garden Home Retreat since we began construction. I remember when my brother Chris brought them out to the farm. The exact month escapes me but it was cold. I could fit one in my left jacket pocket and the other in my right. The farm won’t be the same without Lucky leading the charge through the gardens.