The new year brings changes
Ahh, a snowy day has us writing and reflecting on seasons past and the season ahead. A long winter’s nap, time with friends and family, and a couple of Netflix marathons have spurred us to continue brainstorming and building for the season ahead.
2016 brings about substantial changes to our farming trajectory. Hava has decided to leave Field Notes Farm and pursue herbalism. For the first time in 5 years of CSA farming (3 seasons at Riverview Gardens), we have decided to keep our CSA at just about the same size. For the first time in 6 years we will not be building a hoophouse! We are hiring our first employee, and we are investing in perennial fruits.
We hope to continue refining our skills while expanding our contributions to our community. We decided to set a more realistic expectation for our newsletters this year. Expect a quarterly publication! Thanks for reading.
– Hava departs for medicinal herb growing opportunities
– Keeping our CSA small
– Winter Overview -aka- what do you do all winter, you’re farmers?
– Find your Farmers
– Pizza Close Out
– Ahead for 2016
– 2015 Financial Update
– Food freedom and the presidency
Hava departs for medicinal herb growing opportunities
Winter is a time for rest, reflection, and future planning, both as a farm and individually. Hava has decided to move on from Field Notes Farm and pursue a long-time interest in medicinal herb production. We are very excited for her as she plans to pursue her interests. She intends to grow medicinal herbs commercially. Her plans begin with a class at the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) conference focused on medicinal herb production and marketing. Afterward, she plans to build a farm business around medicinal herb production while furthering her herbal education through the professional herbalism classes at Green Wisdom School of Natural and Botanical Medicine. If you have ever been lucky enough to try her tinctures, thyme cough syrup, herbal bitters, or any dish she has cooked, you can understand that we have no doubt she will be a wild success.
Hava’s contributions to the farm have been invaluable and she will be missed. Her decision to move on has prompted each of us to re-evaluate our plans and pursuits. Field Notes Farm will continue on with a different future.
A note from Hava:
Dear Field Notes Fans – It has been a pleasure to share my farm journey with you over the last year, and I look forward to remaining connected with all of you. You may still reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to keep you informed about my adventures in medicinal herbalism!
Our 2016 CSA shares are now available. We have decided to only slightly grow our community size to 31 boxes/week. It is amazing the difference a single year can make! Looking back at our records, on February 3rd, we had only one family signed up. This year, we have 28! Most of our members are coming back for a second season (Thank you!) and we have a few new folks. If you have questions about the program, read more on our website or get in touch. If you enjoyed your experience, or loved our produce at the market, tell your friends! We have found the strongest recommendations to join a CSA have come from neighbor to neighbor or friend to friend.
The same as last year, we are offering every week and every other week options for an 18 week season from mid-June through mid-October. Fall storage extension shares are available to add 2 or 4 boxes through mid-November. Our sign-up form is available on our website, along with information about community supported agriculture, examples from last year, and a crop plan for this season’s shares. Returning members can sign up by calling, emailing, using the website form, or just sending a check.
One change for this season will be condensing our Appleton and Stevens Point drop offs to a single day – Tuesday. We realized that we stand to save a lot of time and energy by distributing our shares all on one day. Though we enjoyed our collaboration with the Market on Strongs in Stevens Point, they are not open for drop-offs on Tuesdays. Instead, we will be across the street – at the Point Area Bicycle Shop! Our other drop sites in Appleton (the Green Gecko Grocer & Deli), Neenah (Evergreen Credit Union), and Amherst (the Village Hive) will remain the same.
Our workshares and farm artists were a vital component to our success and sanity last season. Workshares come to the farm and contribute 3 hours of work for 16 weeks of the season in exchange for the 11 box share. 8 out of 10 of our workshare positions are open.
Our ‘Farm seeks Artist’ program provides a unique opportunity for a local artist to create art interpreting the spirit of local food, sustainable agriculture, and Field Notes Farm for us to share with our community. In exchange, the artist receives the 11 box share. We are hoping to sign on two artists for the season. If you or someone you know may be interested in these opportunities, get in touch.
Winter Overview – aka – what do you do all winter, you’re farmers?
Wisconsin has seasons. While it is possible to over-winter greens in a hoophouse, we specifically planned our season to have an end date. A winter break allowed us time to rest, visit family, play games, travel, and most importantly, stay inspired for next season.
We do plan for farm work in the winter. Like any small business, taxes need to be filed, year end accounting closed out, marketing materials and websites need updates, and strategic planning for next year and the years ahead is needed. We spent a significant amount of hours discussing what size and scale we wanted grow for this season and adjusted our plans accordingly.
Our farming methods, high-diversity and high-density, demand a formulated plan. We time the use of our space to create a value of produce that can support our livelihood, feed our members, and be sustained on our land. The first action from this plan is our seed order. Demand for organic seeds is increasing, and varieties we prefer are tending to sell out. So, this season we ordered our first seeds in November and finished our seed order on January 13th. We got the last 6 packets (ever) of our favored Suzanne Cherry tomatoes and were able to relax again when our most of our seeds arrived two weeks ago.
We took a road trip around Michigan in December, exploring different scales and types of cider operations. Michigan is known for its “Fruit belt”, a narrow strip along the coast of lake Michigan that experiences longer growing seasons caused by the lake effect. A favorite was Virtue Cider (of Fennville, MI), where we spent the afternoon talking with Ryan, their orchard/farm manager and Wisconsin transplant, about their farm and orchard development. Another favorite stop was Unity Vibration Brewing (of Ypsalanti, MI), where they use wild and open fermentation. After talking with cider makers in Wisconsin and throughout Michigan, all of whom are religious about sterilization, seeing a successful business fermenting in open barrels covered with cheesecloth was a necessary validation of the alternative.
We joined the Organic Fruit Growers Association and are looking forward to their 2 day winter retreat at the end of February. Organic fruit production is still in its infancy here in Wisconsin, so the time to meet with other growers is always appreciated for discussing issues related not only to growing, but also marketing, policy, cooperation and community.
A lifelong joy of tinkering inspired Polly to take an introductory welding course at the Mid-State Technical college. The class focused on TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welding for stainless steel. The skill is perfect for fixing general farm issues (hoophouses, tractors, general metal fix-its), food processing systems (stainless steel is food safe), and fermentation (apple cider tanks). While not a pro, she passed and brought home a number of hilarious lab projects.
While not learning behind a welding mask, Polly has been learning a lot from students in the Stevens Point area school district. Polly received her substitute license in the fall and has been subbing in classrooms of elementary, middle, and high schools (even getting to practice her rusty French). Most days, it is a breath of fresh air and spark of energy, but it has also reaffirmed her appreciation for those in education (including her Ma & Pa).
At the end of January, Polly journeyed to Costa Rica to visit a friend teaching music in a tiny mountaintop, rain forest town – Monteverde. While there, she explored vegetable production and homesteading in a tropical climate, visiting the farm her friend had previously looked after. She was inspired by 7 foot tall kale plants (what happens when there is no winter) and conversed with the owner on refining their vegetable production and seed starting issues. Bonus — shameless consumption of local (and organic) pineapple, chocolate, coffee, and plantains. She will concede that an airplane flight has its own environmental effects, but the trip to see a friend is sometimes worth it.
Returning from the trip, Polly spent the next day bartending at the marathon of the Central Waters Brewery Anniversary party. It was a see-it-to-believe-it, annual bash. If you hope to find a smiling, conversational bartender in Central Wisconsin, stop by the brewery’s taproom some weekend and grab a pint from Polly.
Leadership development, community organizing, and logic puzzles have been the story of Oren’s winter. Oren was elected to the position of Vice President of the Wood-Portage-Waupaca County chapter of the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union (WFU) in November and has continued his work as Finance Officer and board member for the Stevens Point Area Co-op (SPAC).
In January, Oren participated in the first WiLD leadership and organizing training with our WFU chapter president, Tommy Enright (Black Rabbit Farm), and WFU members from other parts of the state. He plans to use this training and his prior organizing experience to bolster membership engagement in our local WFU chapter and SPAC. His interest in organizing around beginning farmer issues has also been renewed!
A rigorous re-acclimation to test taking has set in as Oren prepares to take the Law School Admissions Test this Saturday. While law school is not on the docket for this coming fall (or any specific time), Oren hopes to pursue his interest in dismantling/befuddling bureaucracy with legal tact in the coming years, and so, law school is a foreseeable next step. The test score will be good for four years.
Oren will also be taking a trip west to visit his brother and nephew in Eugene, Oregon at the beginning of March. He will be back just in time to start seeding shallots.
Our pop-up pizza business, Prime Pizza Pi, ended a successful 10-week run just before Christmas. We sold more than 350 pizzas featuring our produce, meat from Nami Moon Farms and Primitive Pastures in Iola, and Wisconsin organic cheeses. We received a slew of compliments on the pizza and had many returning customers. Our head in kitchen, Ronan, is off to Ireland for a 12-week culinary program, and we plan to reflect on future restaurant plans when she returns. While it was a crash course in managing a small restaurant operation, we do not plan to run the venture in its same form (what can we say, we want to enjoy an occasional Saturday night!). It certainly was fun and we appreciate those that came out to support us.
THIS Thursday, February 4th – 5:30-8:30pm
Central Rivers Farmshed Annual Local Food Fair
at SPASH, 1201 Northpoint Drive, Stevens Point
One of our favorite events of the year. Local farms, producers, and advocacy groups gather along with over a thousand members of the community. There is a FREE potato bar with delicious toppings from local restaurants ($2 donation/topping ticket), workshops, and exhibit space featuring area farms (us!) and producers. If you are in the Point area, be sure not to miss it. If you are in Appleton, it is worth the trip!
Community Supported Cider Orchard
You heard it here first! We are preparing to scale Polly’s hobby hard cider-making to a commercial level for Wisconsin. We have negotiated a 10-year lease for a 5 acre parcel to establish as a diversified cider orchard.. The Community Supported Cider Orchard (CSCO) program we are developing will look for community members to invest in shares of the orchard this year with the return of hard cider over the course of the next 4 years. We’ve ordered thirty 6 foot trees and 500+ rootstock and scions to graft this spring. We also plan to plant more than 1000 trees from seed to use as future rootstock and to variety trial. Look for more information in the coming months! (We are hoping this is less grueling than building 5 hoophouses!)
More perennial plantings
Along with our cider orchards, we have begun to plan and commit ourselves to increased perennial production on our 2 acre plot in Custer. The understanding in the fruit/perennial world is You should have planted that tree last year. We are working to maintain annual vegetable production on as little of our acres as we need to provide for CSA shares and market while creating space to establish fruit trees, blueberries, strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb and more. This season we are going to focus on continually improving our growing skills in order to better manage less acreage. While we love annual vegetable farming, perennial production and tighter vegetable production will allow us more time to pursue other interests – community organizing, law school, political office and whatever else life brings.
We often joke about ‘getting our 72s in for the day’. Our beds are 72 feet long and we walk miles each day throughout our 2 acre field. Inspired by The Lean Farm, we are reflecting on ways to improve our time use.
The first refinement will be the construction of a small covered shed in the middle of our plot to house our BCS tractor, implements, and hand tools for the summer season. Saving three or more trips to the barn each day will save us as much as three weeks of work over the entire season. Similarly, re-location of our wash-pack setup and the installation of a wireless irrigation system will save us a considerable amount of time and energy, allowing us to focus on what is important!
Seed saving trials
One of our biggest risks in vegetable farming is our reliance on seeds from other parts of the country. Last season, Hava saved an incredible number of flower seeds – calendula, marigold, poppy, and we saved ground cherries to trial for next season as well.
With our separate acreage at the house we are living, we hope to trial even more seed production. Many vegetables can cross-pollinate and taint the next generation’s product, so we will focus on those that need isolation at our house, and save what we can from the farm.
This season we have two fenced pastures and a barn at our house in Amherst. We plan to raise 8-12 lamb and a small flock of laying hens. With the infrastructure in place, it was hard not to pass up on the opportunity to learn! As the plan for raising animals develops, we will keep you informed. We plan to visit and learn from a WFU member in April who has been raising sheep for his entire life (more than 70 years).
We are currently working on finalizing our 2015 taxes. In the spring we plan to publish a more detailed financial breakdown of our first year. In the mean-time, here is a snapshot:
We plan to sell only slightly more produce while cutting expenses and focusing on improving our growing practices.
Food freedom and the presidency
As our nation moves officially into primary season we are constantly reminded that food and agriculture are almost never mentioned by presidential candidates. It may seem that agricultural issues only impact a small number of people (only 2 million farmers = we are the 1%), but the agricultural policies set forth in the next decade will shape how we eat and the freedom we have to choose our food. When you decide who to vote for, ask them about agriculture. We stand for small family farming, for agro-ecological farming, for broad and democratic ownership of our farmland and agricultural organizations, and for the freedom to choose our food and to know its origin. We hope that you do as well.
Until the snow melts,
Oren & Polly
PS. We have an updated mailing address!
Field Notes Farm
PO Box 307
Amherst, WI 54406
Fun Fact: In 2015, we harvested 280 #s of ground cherries, or 840 pints.