2 weeks to spring, March 2015

We have been refining our production plans, purchasing tools and equipment, and developing new projects. Energized by a long winter’s nap and time spent with friends and family, we have put together an update for you! Tomorrow we start planting flats in the greenhouse. Onions, shallots, and leeks are first. Early tomatoes will follow close behind. Keep in touch as we move into the spring and summer! A healthy conversation does wonders for our morale.

Hoophouse Raising Dates
Our hoophouses are on the way, and we need a few extra hands to build them this April! The weekends of April 4th & 5th and April 11th & 12th, and Saturday April 18th, we welcome you to come and join us in raising our five hoophouses.

Let us know if you plan to make it. We will follow-up with details.
**Sign up on the google-doc or email info@fieldnotesfarm.com to RSVP by March 31st.

Community Supported Agriculture
The start-up funds provided by CSA members joining our farm ensure that we have what we need to launch the farm this year. We have set goals each month for the number of new members we hope to recruit. We are very grateful for all those who have joined thus far!

The balance of risk and reward is an important part of the CSA model. In establishing our CSA, we wanted to include opportunities for financial rewards in addition to the risks and rewards of the harvest. At the end of a good year, members’ investments have provided a stable foundation for our next season. When we exceed our financial goals for a given year, our CSA members receive a discount on the next year’s share. For example: if we make an extra $5000 this year, then we will offer members $20 or $40 off the next season’s share (depending on share size). With this model, our members can receive the benefit of a good year in more useful terms than too much produce.

We are still seeking members for the 2015 season. If you have a friend in the Appleton, Amherst, or Stevens Point community, we would appreciate it if you could share our name with them. Building our membership is one of the more difficult and uncertain parts of starting the farm, but we are optimistic about meeting our goals.

Reflections from The Organic Farming Conference 2015…
For 26 years, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) has organized a conference dedicated to organic agriculture. Below are a few thoughts we picked up this year.

  • Saving seeds: more urgent than we thought. The MOSES Farmer of the Year and Saturday keynote speaker, Greg Reynolds, shared his experiences of saving locally adapted seeds at Riverbend Farm in MN. Last year we experienced a few of the seed-born diseases he mentioned, and this year we experienced shortages in certified organic seed varieties first hand. We had to scramble to find sources for several of our seed varieties, and some farmers have been left without seed for a few regular crops. This has inspired us to start trialing and saving seeds at Field Notes Farm immediately, with a focus this year on tomato, herb, and flower seeds.
  • Medicinal herbs growing in popularity. Wisconsin medicinal tea producer and herbalist, Jane Hawley Stevens from 4 Elements Herbal, is looking for certified organic herb producers to use in her popular herbal teas. This year we hope to grow 1-2 varieties of medicinal herbs to contribute to her locally sourced teas.
  • A governmental contribution to genetic diversity. The US government has a great database of plant cultivars, and you can request cuttings for proposed trials – for FREE! We plan to request a few varieties to trial as we plan for perennial fruits and further diversification of our pollinator habitats. USDA Germplasm.
  • Bring back the pollinators… and lots of other bugs! Representatives from the Xerces Society shared a wealth of information about pollinator conservation and habitat restoration. We are excited to try using the native Partridge Pea as a cover crop this year. We are also trying Phacelia, a cover crop widely used in Europe. The German name for Phacelia is “bienenfreund” or “bee’s friend.” We’ve mapped out pollinator habitat throughout our 2 acres, and are excited to see which critters we can attract to our plantings!

Financial Update
Our February budget versus actuals are posted. We made our two largest purchases in February: a BCS tractor with implements, and 5 hoophouses. Almost $40,000 in total. We expect our tractor and hoophouses to pay off in 7 years or less. You will see our first payment of $7337 on our FSA term loan in December.

Over the last 5 years we have each had opportunities to experiment with a variety of small-scale vegetable growing techniques and tools. Building a 200 member CSA program at Riverview Gardens over the last 3 years pushed us to some of our limits, but taught us many lessons. As we reviewed our tool budget, we discussed the value of investing in tools that will save time, labor, and our bodies. All of the tools under consideration will pay themselves off in 1-3 years, but at the same time, they need to be accounted for by revenue that would otherwise count towards our time. We are currently leaning towards being well-equipped for time-efficient and body-efficient work this season, so you will see us investing in good tools this first year. This also means we either sacrifice some potential personal income, or push to produce and sell more food. Our consensus for 2015: if we have the same amount of money in our personal bank accounts next February, then we’ll be happy!

Announcing 2015 Farm Artists!
We posted a simple want ad around Appleton, Amherst and Stevens Point (and our website) reading ‘Farm Seeks Artist’. Inspired by the Wormfarm Institute in Reedsburg and Full Plate Farm in Washington, we began discussing the incorporation of local artists as part of our farm community.

We sought proposals for artists willing to work with us across the whole growing season. We were looking for an artist to join us, producing art that gives our members a new way to experience the farm, vegetables, and CSA experience. In exchange for their work, participating artists receive a CSA share from our farm. As the season continues, we will share how the project is developing and the artists’ own stories.

We are excited to announce our artists for the 2015 season!

Mathias & Rebecca Reed – Mathias and Rebecca are a husband/wife duo with roots in rural New England (transplanted to Northeast Wisconsin). Mathias and Rebecca share an appreciation for sustainable farming and bringing the community closer to nature. Their proposal described working with Field Notes from June-October to create a short 3-minute film featuring the story of the farm and its farmers. Mathias brings a photographer’s eye and Rebecca contributes music, lighting and interviews. Together, they form a creative team that deeply values telling the community’s stories.
Preview Mathias & Rebecca’s prior work here.

Elyse-Krista AnnaMarie Mische – Driven by love of the outdoors, Elyse’s artistic work highlights activities void of technology and uses a down home touch to show how people spend time with nature. Her proposal described working with Field Notes to create illustrated zines for CSA members featuring the vegetables in their CSA boxes. Beyond the delicious taste of produce, her work will add color to each of the vegetables and their unique role as part of our farm production.
Preview Elyse’s prior work here.

Greenhouse Space with Tony & Laura, Whitefeather Organics
One of the greatest challenges to the start of the growing season is aligning the timing of plant starts — and having a consistently warm space in which to grow them. This year, we are working with Tony & Laura of Whitefeather Organics (our countryside Custer neighbors) to use their greenhouse to begin plant production. They grow fantastic vegetables and we are excited to work alongside them this spring.

Produce Price Report
Consumer reports frequently depict an organic diet as overly expensive and inaccessible to the majority of people. Polly and Oren have been building a database of retail produce prices (organic and conventional) from area grocery stores in an effort to make sense of this commonly held belief. The information demonstrates to us the reality is more complex. (View the spreadsheet here)

If these winter prices hold through the summer (unlikely), then our $350 every other week CSA share would cost between $427 and $679 at area grocery stores! We are working to develop the project to incorporate real time prices and need help collecting price points. Get in touch if you are interested in joining the project.

Find us in March
Spring has us in the field and in the community. Let us know if there are any other events that you think we should check out!

Catch up with us at…

  • Central Rivers Farmshed Community Potluck
    March 10th 6:30pm, 1220 Briggs Court Stevens Point
  • Fox River Environmental Education Alliance’s 2nd Annual Fox River Celebration!
    March 14th 9am-4pm, 1000 Ballard Road Appleton
  • Neenah Area Community Supported Agriculture Open House
    March 15th 5-7pm, Zuppa’s Cafe
  • Appleton Area Community Supported Agriculture Open House
    March 18th 4-6pm, Appleton Public Library

Polyculture Dairy
Hava has been busy this winter as a community culture developer — of yogurt and kefir! Coming this spring, we will be working at The Village Hive in Amherst to make kefir and yogurt. We are running our first test batch of kefir on Monday, March 9. More information on where to get your hands on some of our dairy products coming soon!

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