Tuesday, December 25, 2007

FSA flood insurance!

Last week I met with head of Wisc FSA, Ben Brancel and his #1, Russ Raeder and Wisconsin Department of Ag, Laura Paine and #1 in my eyes, Will Hughes. Will has some connection with Ben, Will had read my analyses and understood it, he directed the meeting. True to form as government employees, Russ and Ben digressed and passed the buck to Washington! Will took down names, 'Who do I talk to?' Price!, needs a big change, Unharvested factor! off by at least 50%, planting periods!, I think Russ and Ben flinched, after all they have had since 2000 to get them right!, I wrote them in 2004 and went home and rewrote them in the exact table they use, all they have to do is click send! Maybe there is some hope on this one for 2007 disaster application!, about $20,000 difference if they get it right this time! That is about all I can do.

I am holding out hope that Will can pull some strings! Will and family were original 1993 CSA members and had a pick-up site at their house for many years and has since moved up the ladder at Wisc DATCP and totally gets it! He made it clear that this is not only about HVF, but this is a good test case. If it does not work here, then it does not work for anybody!

There are two options being considered, if this fails, #1, get at least 500 CSA families to e-mail the government officials and demand they do their job! (A bit of insight!, the FSA officer who is doing my low interest emergency loan appl. told me that his predecessor and himself have given so few loans that the taxpayer would be better served if USDA just gave away some grants to those in need, rather than paying all these big salaries to employees who do not make any loans or payments for disasters) .

Or to digress further, but maybe quite accurate. Why do tax payers allow government employees to work in the interest of big business, rather than to protect citizen taxpayers, ie, FDA approval of drugs without sufficient studies, FDA and USDA approve untested GMO crops for the sole benefit of Monsanto, without protecting the public! It is about to happen again with a GMO sugar beet which will pollute most of the remaining food supply. They got corn and soybeans which make up 70% of food products and now with GMO sugar there will be no conventional food left that does not have some dangerously untested GMO component, they win, the consumer losses and the Goverment officials who are responsible for a safe food supply have completed the sell out!

Have to send a note to Ronnie Cummings, Organic Consumers Union, thought he had this GMO beet covered, but the CEO of Crystal Sugar just did a 180 turn, I wonder? Did they threaten his family or just offer money or both?

Anyway, got home from the FSA meeting and had a message that the 'Sow the seeds fund' was sending a $37,000 check, we do know who our friends are! So that leaves us at squeaking by, still in business, a fair FSA insurance payment would mean business as usual, employee raises, replace broken equipment, fix stream bank wash-outs, etc. Richard

Monday, December 24, 2007

Note to Self

  • Don't enter the cow's pasture empty handed, especially if they are hungry and you are wearing a red hat

  • You can't run very fast when you're wearing snowshoes in 6 inches of powder

This afternoon I wanted to check on the cow's hay because it looked kind of low in the feeder (from a distance). I usually work in the office but I am more than happy to bring buckets of food to the animals on the weekends or other days off - I am in charge of the animals for only a couple days a month. The feeder is across the creek from the bunker (what I like to call their table) where I put their delicious organic grain.

(okay, okay, I'm trying to sell you some beef. We still have beef for sale. They are rotationally grazed, finished on organic grain. Buy some! Here! Next delivery in January!)

So I decided to walk over across the water in my snowshoes for a look-see at the feeder, 'cos Richard said Dan had put 10 bales of hay in the feeder the other day, but I thought it looked low (from a distance).

As I opened the gate, the cows came close 'cos they know me as good for feed by now. I used to think it was cute how they scampered around like puppies when I came in with buckets of food. I bypassed the "table" and they followed me across the creek. There are definitely leaders and followers with these cows. The first two led the way across the creek, right behind me, while the others followed more slowly. Then the slow ones paused. I stepped to the side and I tried to coax them on because I didn't really want to follow them too close behind, much less cross their path. But they stopped. So I crossed behind two, ahead of four cows. I kept telling them that it wasn't lunch time, I was just checking in, look - no bucket of food, but they kept advancing. I made a wide berth around the feeder 'cos it was very poopy and I could see clearly that it wasn't very full of hay. They sped up and #13 gave me the eye. She pawed the ground, looked at my head/red hat and kicked up her heels!

(This is that same feeder, found down stream, after the flood.)

As I made my wide berth, I realized I was right next to another food bunker and I had no food! The cows kept coming! I kept thinking about how bears and dogs can smell fear and tried to remain calm as I made my way to the next fence, about 25 feet away (which I think, I hope, is electric). As I said, one cannot run wearing snow shoes in six inches of powder. I moved as quickly as I could and I rolled under the fence and the cows kept coming. As I walked away from the fence (way more slowly than I would have liked), I saw #13 sniffing the wire & under the wire and make the wise decision to not try to follow. I ended up taking the long way home, across the creek again & across the fields. It took me almost an hour!

Richard and I went out later to give the cows some hay & that was another (reluctant) adventure. He pushed 8 bales out of the barn & we piled them into the bucket of the skid steer (like a Bobcat or Mustang - a machine with a fork or a bucket for carrying stuff. Ours has chains on the back wheels now, for getting around in the snow). I met him Richard at the gate & reluctantly got on top of the bales for the trip/ride to the feeder. (I didn't want to walk with the cows!) The snow was very, perhaps unexpectedly, deep & Richard struggled up the creek bank while I hung on for dear life, with cows looking on. OMG I was so scared!

We got to the feeder bin & I had to cut the rope binding the bales & pile it into the feeder below. The cows were at it in no time. I was still up in the skid steer bucket when I took this pic.

I'm scared of the cows now. Kinda like the goats - never turn your back. Don't laugh! I'm a city girl. This is all so very new to me.

Merry Xmas & Happy New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Billy the Boer Goat

We got ourselves a stud! We're gonna have kids in the spring!
Look at his beard blowing in the wind. We just put him in our pasture last night, so our other goats are still hesitant but very curious. We borrowed him from a neighbor and will return him in the spring. He is a lovely animal and we were assured that he wouldn't be too wild or cause trouble or jump fences.I'll be taking care of the animals over the holidays and Richard gave me this advice: Do not turn your back on an intact male. If you let your guard down that would be the moment they decide to give you head butt/nudge right at the knees. And down I'd go in the poopy snow.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winter is Here/FSA Payments

We had our first winter snow storm this Saturday. My first winter in the valley! It really is lovely but kind of scary. Richard drove to the Madison indoor Farmer's Market at Monona Terrace (RIP Otis Redding) and José and Margo had CSA deliveries that day. It started snowing mid-morning and visibility and the roads were crap! Andrea and I were home, here at the farm, and tried to convince both Richard & José to stay in Madtown, but they both insisted they'd be careful y despacio, and get home that night. I was so glad to see them (José and Margo much later than Richard)! We're expecting another couple inches today. I moved into the farmhouse just in time, I think! (the first cabin is mine, the upper is Glen's - electricity but no water)

Richard has been working on getting a fair payment from the FSA for our crop losses from the flood this summer. This is a letter and table he sent to the Vernon County FSA, Russ Raeder at the state FSA, and to the Wisconsin Deptarment of Agriculture. If you click on the picture of the table it should enlarge - it's all very interesting, but pay special attention to the last 3 columns: 2007 HVF Loss ($/Acre), FSA Payment ($/Acre), and FSA Payment: % of Actual Loss. FSA payments are incredibly low!

Being certified organic involves good record keeping, so Richard has very good records on all he's grown over the years - yields, prices and planting periods. I think he makes a great case for making changes in how the FSA calculates payments:

Comparative Analysis of Market Crop Values to Actual FSA Payments

Compiled By Richard de Wilde, Harmony Valley Farm

I have been farming in southwest Wisconsin since 1985. I grow certified organic produce on 100 acres of land that I sell to the fresh market. Half of my sales are to wholesale markets, with the other half of sales to retail markets including farmer’s market and our large CSA. In August of this year we experienced excessive rainfall resulting in devastating flooding in our valley that damaged and destroyed over 45 acres of crops as well as prevented planned plantings. I filed crop loss claims with NAP and have received 14 payment calculations from FSA thus far. The NAP policy is supposed to pay 27.5% of losses, however these 14 payment calculations only average 2.17% of Harmony Valley Farm’s (HVF) actual loss for these crops. If the remaining crop calculations are similar, I will receive $16,000 on a $750,000 loss. With a discrepancy this great, it is obvious that there is something really wrong here! My assumption is that the individuals associated with implementing the NAP program are well-meaning and want to work with farmers to make this program functional with an efficient process for filing and paying claims that will benefit and help the farmers who rely on this program. With this assumption in mind, I would like to outline some of the problems with the current NAP program from my perspective as a farmer. Please refer to the accompanying chart which will help demonstrate some of the problems.


Please take a look at the crop value section on the chart, expressed in “dollars per pound.” I have been told that the FSA crop table uses the AMS fresh market price at the Chicago terminal. The crop table values are based on AMS prices taken from 120 days prior to the application closing date (March 15, 2007). Using AMS data from November 1, 2006, I found that the FSA crop table prices are only 29% of the AMS prices. How can this be? There are also obvious errors, such as “Green Baby French” beans are priced the same on the FSA table as the regular green beans when the AMS prices show a 214% higher price for this variety. There are serious problems with the FSA crop table when this sampling shows FSA prices are on average only 29% of the AMS prices when I would expect them to match. The issue is actually much worse than this!

The HVF average prices from 2006 are 158% higher than AMS prices. Yes, some of that is a premium for “certified organic production,” but much more so it reflects the fact that half of HVF production is sold at retail prices while AMS and FSA crop values are based on wholesale market price. Retail prices are 100% higher than wholesale, a standard practice in the produce industry. To pay only wholesale prices may work for businesses who only sell to wholesale markets, but the reality is that most produce growers sell some or all of their product to retail markets. Thus, the current FSA practice is discriminatory against direct market produce growers.

A more reasonable practice would be to use a price that more closely matches the individual farmer’s market situation. FSA already uses an individual farmer’s yields (APH) to figure crop values, thus why not extend the practices to use an individual farmer’s prices as well. In the very least, figure payments using a scale that matches a farmer’s actual market breakdown where crops are sold instead of assuming all sales are made at a wholesale market price. NAP rules include ‘local markets’ in the list of price sources.


As stated previously, NAP policy is supposed to pay 27.5% of loss when the loss exceeds 50%. This percentage is based on paying 55% of losses over 50% of the total. So, payment is already being based on a much lower amount than the actual loss. If a farmer has a total loss on a crop—now FSA is going to decrease payment further by calculating in an unharvested factor (FSA value assigned to costs that would have been incurred had the crop been harvested). Their rationale for this is that costs associated with harvest are decreased or eliminated if a crop is lost. Where do these numbers come from? Are they based on records of harvest costs? If so, whose records were they and when were they gathered? While I do not feel an adjustment factor for harvest costs is even warranted, if it must be there it should at least be an accurate value.

I have included the HVF labor cost per pound for harvest and calculated a harvest factor cost based on our known harvest costs. I derived these values from time studies that have been done on my farm to establish labor costs for my own business use. You can see that the HVF harvest factor is 177% greater than the average FSA unharvested factor and hence would increase a 100% loss payment substantially.

Also, though many of the crops appeared to be a total loss initially, in many cases there was a higher part of the field that recovered and we were able to harvest some crop that went to market, so we have some production to report. Both the assessor and the Vernon County office advised me to ask the State FSA office for permission to change those crops from zero production to harvested. Reporting production would remove the unharvested factor for those crops initially assessed to be total loss. Regardless, the fact still remains that the unharvested factor numbers as they are now are a serious impediment to this program working effectively.


The NAP handbook has clear provisions for establishing planting periods for crops that are planted multiple times during a growing season. The majority of vegetable crops are in this multiple planting category. It is absolutely essential and necessary for planting periods to be established for NAP to work! This was evident in 2003 when I applied for a drought disaster for 4 acres of beets planted for fall harvest and storage. When that loss was combined with our good spring beet crop, the loss was only 50% and payment was zero. FSA refused to establish planting periods for that loss.

In December 2004 Russ Raeder asked me to write planting periods for all vegetables. I submitted them on January 4, 2005 and they were reviewed by Karen Delahout, vegetable specialist for the University of Wisconsin. As a result, a few planting periods were established, but two years later there are still more than 40 crops from the NAP list that we grow that do not have established planting periods! I wrote the planting periods without compensation, providing FSA with all the information needed to do the right thing. I did my part, but it is the responsibility of FSA employees and committees to implement them.

The NAP insurance program is a workable program as catastrophic insurance if, and only if, it is administered properly. It has not been so. There are still serious errors in final plant dates, price, unharvested factor and planting periods, that when combined make a $100,000 difference in my loss payment. This may be the difference between being able to continue farming or not. I would like to see FSA take responsibility for making the necessary and long overdue changes needed to make the NAP program an efficient, manageable, fair and reasonable insurance program that will actually benefit farmers who are invested in growing food necessary to feed and sustain our families and communities. I have followed through on my end of the deal and expect the government representatives to do the same. I am not satisfied with hearing “We will try to get it right for next year!” Changes need to be made, not in the future, but NOW for 2007.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Best Crew Ever!

Today was the last day for several members of our crew; four will be leaving for Mexico soon. But we still have work to do, so we can keep the majority of the crew busy for a while longer. We keep 6-8 people working year round in the packing shed & greenhouses, but much of the crew will return to work next spring. I made everybody (well, I thought everybody, but a couple people decided not to get their picture taken) stand outside (hoping that it wouldn't start snowing again) and smile. Back row from left to right: María, Frezbindo, Francisca, Simone, José Z., Gerardo, Adelaida, Nestor, Margo, José R., Richard, Juan, Andrea, Cristino, Rufina, & Benji. Front row L-R: Angel, Michael, Adelina, Brian, Alejandro, Aurelia, Margarita. Not pictured: Ezequiel, Ishmael, Irma, Rhiannon, Miguel, Hector, Glen, Dan, Brian.

Monday, November 5, 2007

It's Snowing!

Okay, it was more of a hard rain* and it didn't last, but it's Monday, November 5th and there were flurries.
*(I met Bob Dylan's neighbor (or so she claims) at the record store in Madison this weekend. The record store guy was playing the Live 1966 release and it reminded me to see if they had Planet Waves. The clerk and I were chatting about our favorite songs & she piped in with the "Bob Dylan's my neighbor" info. Believe it or don't.)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

USDA crop insurance!

Our only crop insurance is a USDA program, called NAP (Non-insured Agricultural Production), in other words, insurance for crops that are not the common commodities, corn, soybean, wheat and rice. It is a CAT type program, (catastrophic loss), which means it will cover crop expenses, but not cover the total loss of income, NAP reports to pay 27.5% of loss. Which would be $220,000 of our $800,000 loss. BUT, I knew they did not pay, based on Organic Prices, so based on limited past experience, I was realistically planning on only about 12-15% or $100,000 from 45 acres of crop loss. But this week was a sobering reality when I got the first payment sheets on four crops. They averaged 2% of our actual loss!!! How can this be? They use our reported yields from the last 10 years which are good, near or above the average yield, but the problem lies in the extremely low price that they assigned to each crop.(When is the last time you saw cabbage sell for .08/#??) and then a new factor that even the FSA field person was not aware of comes in to play, the UH (unharvested factor) ranging from .32 to .5%. In other words, because we did not have to pay a crew to harvest the crop, they reduce the already low payment by half again, so the resulting total of $150 for one acre of cabbage does not even pay for the cost of raising the plants and nothing for transplanting, cultivating, weeding, etc.
This is a new blow to our recovery strategy! I will fight it! Former CSA coordinator Will Hughes who is a high level official in the Wisconsin Dept of Ag, is arranging a meeting with Ben Brancel who is the head of FSA (Farm Service Agency) for Wisc, will let you know how it goes!, but don't hold your breath! We may ask you to contact him! If you know him or Russ Raider who is the state wide coordinator for this program, please tell them in a nice way that they are failing in their job and should be removed from the taxpayers expense if they cannot administer this program in a way that at least covers a minimum of losses!! thanks, Richard

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

There's a cool old cemetery down Newton Road, just off Wire Hollow. I made my spooky pilgrimage there the other day - maybe I'll get the guts to go tonight and look at it in the moonlight, on this All Hallow's Eve. The oldest stone I could read was from 1857! There were plenty of crumbling markers, covered with moss or fallen down, that were illegible so maybe they are even older. It made me think of how long people have lived and worked in this valley and how lucky I am to be here. There's still plenty of room in Huxley's Cemetery, I'll have to see about reserving a spot.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Catch of the Day

The mother of all radishes, a throwback, one in a thousand occurrence. About 3 pounds, funny & freakish & beautiful beauty heart.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dad's home!

My father went home saturday with a newly implanted 'Defibrillator' or some such. It speeds up his heart a bit, and he was feeling so good, he was trying to get get some more land to expand his garden! Whoo dad! He celebrates his 82 nd birthday on Nov 2, his e-mail is wdewilde@iw.net if you want to send him a birthday greeting.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


So while I'm writing about the dump and listening to yet another inch of rain falling on our satsurated farm, my brother calls to tell me my 80 year old father is in ICU. His heart stopped briefly, but luckily he was already in ER and stabilized quickly. We could really use some sunshine here now!

Coal Dump!

We went to Dairyland Powers informational meeting last night. Not very exciting, our local power supplier relies mainly on two old coal burning plants. They decided or were forced to install a scrubber to remove pollution from the exhaust. It involves injecting large amounts of lime into the stack to attract, soak up sulfur, nitrates, mercury, titanium, etc. So when previously they could sell their ash to be mixed with cement, now it is not suitable for that use and they want to creat a new landfill to 'store' it until they find a use for it. They take it out of the air and risk contaminating the ground water with it, not much of an improvement! Unfortunately the place they want to condemn to put it is in the middle of an organic farming community. It is several, probably 5 miles from here, but up-wind and almost up-stream from us and is on and adjacent to other organic farms. They don't have a clue about the strength of the organic customers, but what was more disturbing was when talking to the chief chemist, it was clear he did not know much about chemistry. The whole group did not instill confidence that they knew what they were doing. The driving force for them was clearly in the words 'lowest immediate cost' as far as tipping fees and transporting. We'll keep you posted as we learn more about the 'proposed dump'!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paranoia - Sleep Destroyer

I didn't sleep at all last night, just thinking about bugs. The evil faux lady bugs came in from the fields last week and they love Richard's wooden house & my log cabin. They were super active while it was warm and then they seemed to disappear once it cooled down. I knew they weren't really gone & that I'd be dealing with them all winter long; I figured they had crawled into the cracks & crevices of my little cabin. Little did I know that they had taken refuge behind ALL my clothes! I have hooks on the wall that jut out far enough to hold several hangers; my walls serve as my closet (you need to get creative in a 10x10 log cabin!). One cool night last week, I needed a hoody that was hanging against the wall. When I moved the clothes to the side to reach what I needed, I was horrified to find a clump of the beetles hiding in the dark behind ALL my clothes! I ran out of suction in my rechargeable hand vacuum and I kept finding more hiding places. They keep crawling out of the woodwork. I can hear them skittering around on the ceiling and in the corners and in the windowsills. And then I think I feel them drop onto me in my bed and then I can't sleep. Woe is me.

Maybe I'll have time for a nap today. It's a foggy, rainy day and I've created the perfect October playlist: Billie Holiday, Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, The Band, Nina Simone & Elliot Smith.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cover crops

We have several fields put to bed for winter. The one pictured is seeded to oats and peas on raised beds. The field was subsoiled after compost was spread. The oat/pea mix will winter kill and in spring, one shallow tillage pass will give us a field that can be planted early to give an early crop of salad, spinach, cilantro and radish.

Soil tests!

Soil tests are back and look surprisingly good! We had fears of fertility washed out with the 26" of rain in August, but appears that despite an observible loss of soil, the fertility stayed put or was actually concentrated. Soil organic matter was up slightly, .1 to .2% on soils ranging from as low as 2.2 to 3.9% organic matter. CEC, Cation Exchange Capacity, the ability of any soil to hold nutrients was up also when compared to last years tests. Most nutrients were slightly up to constant from previous years, except the very water soluble nutrients that seem to require yearly additions, calcium, sulphur, Manganese and boron. The bottom line is that soil mineral needs will be the same as last year, about $10,000 worth of gypsum with traces of manganese and boron, $20,000 worth of compost with our usual addition of kelp and sea minerals to supply the rest of the trace and rare elements needed for healthy plants and healthy people.

Bulldozer progress

Wow, It was so cold, but so much fun! After paying a $3,500 per month lease on a bulldozer for now the second month, I finally got to operate it!! Brian showed me how the controls work and promptly left me on my own. It is very touchy, lots of power and can push piles of dirt!
I went to field #44/64 which lies near the river, but there is two acres of old pasture between the field and the river which was higher than the field which had 6-8 inches of topsoil washed away, so we rotavated the old sod and with the bulldozer pushed soil from the pasture to fill in the washed out field. Sounds simple enough, but requires precise depth control, blade tilt, and blade angle, constantly changing with the highs and lows of the terrain. Pushing dirt from the high spots and letting it flow out evenly into the low spots and then backing as fast as you can control back to the river, stopping just short of the bank overlooking the rushing Bad Axe river and putting the blade down again to start another push to the washed out field. Again and again, the hours slip by, the cold penetrates, but so much more to do, Oh, no, late for lunch! You don't want to miss an Andrea lunch!
After Lunch Brian takes over and makes faster progress than I did. By the end of day tomorrow, it should be done, ready to subsoil. compost and seed to rye. One field done, the easiest one, three more to go, please, please no rain for awhile.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Driftless party

Richard and I went to the benefit party for the Driftless boys on Saturday night. They had an awesome surf band and everybody was dancing in the barn. Potluck, free beer, good times, good company. They were taking donations at the door, had a pie walk (same as a cake walk), and a silent auction. They were also hit very hard by the flood so I hope this party generated some funds for recovery! We had the winning bid on this pecan pie!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Saturday off

Wow! Tomorrow is the first Saturday I will not be going to market in Madison since the 3rd week in April. Andrea and Juan are doing the market. Juan is a very good truck driver and does a great job of back-up: taking things off the truck, stocking up, etc. He is shy about sales because he thinks his English is not good enough, but it is! Andrea will be in charge of set-up, price changes and all the small details that come up. They have alot of good veggies to sell, salad, a new crop of spinach and beautiful cured sweet potatoes. Check out our stand and let me know how they do!
I will be catching up with clothes washing, office cleaning, mail,etc, big joke! The crew is coming tomorrow to dig more sweet potatoes! We'll try out a new digger that Brian modified and try to get the rest out of only slightly muddy conditions before it rains again on Sunday or Monday or whenever, but it just seems to rain before it dries out. We did get one more field seeded to winter cover today!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Name this Veggie!

Chef Andrea just brought me the most beautiful skewer of....

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Richard on the TV

Thanks to CSA member Helen, who reminded me to share this interview with Richard, Jai from Avalanche & Noah from Driftless, from Wisconsin Eye Network. It's in their archives, so look for the 9.17.07 entry about Wisconsin flooding.

I think it's very well done - sad & hopeful at the same time.

And like Richard says, we couldn't be doing this without the support of our customers, CSA members, and extended community! We've received about $43,000 in donations as of today!!! We can't say thank you thank you thank you enough!!! I'm working on the thank yous and I hope to get them sent out next week (which I've been saying since the beginning of the month - there is not enough time in the day).

We're applying to FEMA, FSA, SBA, insurance, and the Sow the Seeds fund too. We'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Workday & Harvest Party

You couldn't have asked for a better weekend for the Harvest Party! The weather was sunny & warm with just the right breeze. We had a crew on Saturday (there's some of them above) to help clean up the campsite of flood debris. Richard had a whole list of things to be done but we couldn't access some of the fields, so the beer drinking started a little earlier than expected. Thanks for bringing me the Surly, Ahme!! We had some campers for Saturday night (Lukas & Cheryl said it was great except that the cows stayed up too late. Their voices carry through the valley something fierce.)

People started arriving for the Harvest Party around 11am on Sunday. We got a bit of a late start on the wagon tours, but they were still about 2 hours long, ending up in the Pumpkin Patch. Richard even let young Henrick (above) take the wheel! Angel had slaughtered a pig on Saturday and was roasting it most of the day Sunday. The potluck & pig were delish, we had some fun activities, it was great to meet our CSA members (from Wisconsin & Minnesota), and I think people enjoyed themselves here at the farm! Thank you to everyone who came & celebrated the Fall Harvest with us!

Next to the Pumpkin Patch, we had some industrious kids digging sweet potatoes. They are sheltered by a big heat -trapping blanket used to cover the field when frost threatens and to allow the potatoes to mature in the ground a bit longer. We lifted the edge to take this picture, but the kids were happy tramping around under the tent of white light.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Don't Panic, They're Organic! Don't Act So Strange, They're Free Range!

Last week, Andrea visited our Amish neighbors, the Beechys, to check out their poultry operation. We finally found a vendor for truly pastured chickens & turkeys! We'll be delivering to our CSA customers this November & December. Here's some of the real life birds, free to roam real life pasture. No more battery cages!!

Guess What? Chicken Butt.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Clearing Debris & Growing Greens

Above is a pic of Angel & Nestor clearing Field 60 of driftwood and wire. Brian A. is in the background with the bulldozer, making a new drainage ditch. I think Glen has some photos from a couple weeks ago, when Brian got himself stuck in the mud with the dozer. It took two tractors to pull him out. Awesome.

Below is a picture of our new Fall Crop of Spinach!! It's so exciting to see the green coming back into the fields.

Soil fertility tests!

I'm taking soil samples today, with a soil probe. When pushed into the ground to a depth of 6 inches, it comes out with a 1" round core of soil about 6" long. I knock it into a clean bucket and walk to another spot in a field to take another. I use a Z pattern to cover a field and take 15 or so samples per field. These are mixed together in the bucket and then put in a bag. About 2 cups soil total will go to the testing lab in Omaha, Nebraska. I am sampling some areas where 6 or more inches of silt washed in. It will be interesting to see what the fertility of that silt is or is not. Also wondering how this year's test will compare to last year's on fields that had 26 inches of rain run over them. I will let you know! Planning on taking 20 samples, so better get walking! Rd

Monday, September 17, 2007

Support from across the country!

Our friend Jean Paul, who runs Roxbury Farm in New York state, featured our fundraising initiative in his last CSA newsletter. He reprinted one of our newsletters and encouraged his community to help another farm in need. Today we got three checks and some heartfelt blessings and best wishes from Roxbury Farm CSA members! Check out his farm and the newsletter.

Besides donations coming in, there are other hopeful signs. From the field today, it looks like we'll have arugula for the end of the season!

And we've been harvesting parsnips too(see pic below). That's Glen with the bucket, Brian in the green jacket, Dave driving the tractor & Dan driving the wagon. Check out this delish potato & parsnip pancake recipe! Yum.

Insult to injury

Friday night we got frost! We're still waiting for the fields to dry out and now they've been frost bit. Did a field tour last night and things don't look too bad. We've covered the peppers and the sweet potatoes, and even the few rows of peppers that weren't covered didn't look too bad.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Life goes on

Back to work! (above, Juan & José removing fencing from the corn)

The fields are drying out a bit! The sun is shining! We are staying optimistic - we've brought back much of the crew, we're doing soil/water/veggie testing and the inspector certified the pepper fields as not flooded. Glen planted some radish & we'll get spinach in (for spring harvest) soon. There is a lot of work to be done in the fields - check out the erosion & debris:

The years of organic compost and addition of minerals, washed away or covered with sand. Like I said, we're trying to be optimistic. It helps that just today we received almost $5,000 in the mail! From our CSA members! We are hoping to raise $160,000 to help cover some of our losses. We asked our 1600 CSA families to give $100 each to make that goal. We had some help from a member, Kellee, in the Twin Cities who came up with some other clever donation levels: $252 is $1 for every day between September 1 and May 8, the projected first CSA delivery date in 2008. $500 is a symbolic donation of $10 for each of the 50 crops we lost, and $960 will buy one load of compost for 2.5 acres. Our members are really stepping up and we know we couldn't do it without them.
While the inspector was able to certify that our pepper fields weren't flooded, it is obvious that many of the fields were. On the left is a picture, taken yesterday, of a rather sad & slimy eggplant field. It used to be so beautiful! Those lovely purple eggplants against the lush green background. The purple still sort of stands out against the drowned brown stalks of the plant & the drying mud. But really, it doesn't have the same charm.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Welcome home, welcome to the blog.

Just got back from the Dane County Farmer's Market in Madison. It was amazing fun but I'm a bit punchy from no sleep. We have to leave the farm by 2:30am on Saturdays in order to get to Madison and be set up & open for business by 6:30ish. It's great to talk to the people and hear how much they love our veggies - and how much they miss the things that we lost in the flood. "Sorry, no salad greens - washed away. Same with the melons (see picture at left), many of the peppers, eggplant, cabbage, and basil." So sad. But the love we're getting from our market customers and our CSA members is amazing! They are fiercely loyal. We've initiated a fundraising drive - well, actually it was our supporters' idea. We sent out an email to everyone at the end of August, to tell them about the amazing devastation that this valley had suffered. (We have had 26inches of rain since August 11!) So we sent the email and we got about 300 responses in the first week - people asking what they could do, where could they send the check, can they set up a benefit in Minneapolis or Madison. So we took them up on it - it's hard to ask people for money, but with crop losses of over $500,000 and little or no chance of the government insurance program paying anything near even 1/4 of the value - and that's based on conventional crop pricing not organic!!! - we knew we had to do something. After the flood it has rained for another week and we ended up laying off 10 of our full time crew. The first portion of any money we raise is going into an employee relief fund - we'll get them a paycheck either by calling them back to do clean up or hopefully to do field work & harvest once it dries up. Or if we can't call them back to work, give them an "unemployment" check to help cover their expenses while they look for other work. Many of our staff were affected by the flood at home, too. Water in basements, trees on roofs, and their own fields flooded. We'll see how the letter goes over.

Fall lettuce crop, underwater. 8/21/7