Save Running’s field, campaign for a farm incubator

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA couple weeks ago, we learned about a neighboring farm field being put up for sale. Although we’d love to see it be kept in agriculture, the asking price is such that it will likely go for development.

After a thick dialogue of whether or not it’s any of our business to be concerned about this, we’ve decided it is. As farmers we are not only growing good food to feed our neighbors, but a big part of our job – and something that’s really important to us – is working to promote land health, conservation, and encourage more new farmers to rally and start growing food to feed their communities.

Being mid-June, and feeling already thoroughly swamped with chores and farm projects, we’re a bit stuck for how to help preserve this beautiful field.  We don’t have time or money, we don’t really know what to do. But we’ve got ideas. Intention. And a shittonne of positive gumption.

We’ve been in touch with a couple local non-profit organizations, Hills Horizon and Dakota Rural Action, and several local growers in the valley and there is a lot of support for keeping this parcel in productive agriculture. Collectively, we’re excited about preserving this land through a farm incubator program. A farm incubator is usually a large piece of land owned by a non-profit, municipality, etc. that is leased out in smaller (1-5 acre) plots to aspiring farmers. Frequently farm incubators share tools between leasees. This combined with no upfront land costs makes beginning a career in farming more affordable. Most of the leases are short term, 3-5 years, giving tenants time to learn how to farm, establish a market, and then find land of their own, ideally locally. Income brought in by the lease agreements will go towards paying taxes on the land, irrigation fees, and supplying shared tools and infrastructure for leasees. There are some good examples of this happening all around the country, for instance the Intervale Farms Program in Vermont, Viva Farms in Washington, and, closer to home, the Organic Field School in Minnesota. For a comprehensive list, check out the National Young Farmers Coalition’s Training Opportunities.

The South Dakota grassroots organization, Dakota Rural Action, already has a Farm Beginnings program in place, which provides the business training for starting a farm enterprise. Utilizing this field as a farm incubator would be a complementary resource available for helping grow the next generation of farmers in western South Dakota.

In order to protect this land, it will take more than just a few of us. We need support from the whole Spearfish Community. This property has been producing food and feeding this region for generations. Not only is the Running’s Farmstand an icon of the valley, it is a direct connection to our rich agricultural heritage.  This property is important to us all.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve talked with the sellers and the land is already caught the eye of developers. Spearfish needs to act quickly.

We are currently working on the legal specifics for how Hills Horizon can serve as the umbrella organization, collect donations from the community to go towards purchasing the land. We only need 1,000 people to donate $1,000. As a farm incubator, this property will continue to grow food for our community, it will remain open space, a valuable resource for all of us – including future generations.

Cycle Farm is committed to donating 10% of our year’s gross income to helping preserve this land in agriculture and establish a farm incubator. If you are also interested in donating, or have other ideas on how to preserve this land (fundraising, Kickstarter, bake sales, etc.), we would love to hear from you.

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A farm incubator is just one of many ways this land can be preserved and kept in productive agriculture. There are lots of options to make this work. Other ideas might include a long term lease to a local grower (as it is currently used) and/or community and school garden plots, orchard.

 

 

celebrating farm hands and forts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had a chance this weekend to spend time with some of our most dearest friends and biggest inspirations, Craig and Avery. Together, we nearly doubled the height of the cob wall in the greenhouse, started on trellising the hops, taste-tested the assorted farm ferments, watched the baby chickens grow and sleep, cruised out for a bike-in movie on the hill, feasted on mesquite pancakes and our very first farm asparagus harvest, added fruit trees to the orchard, and planted a hazelnut hedge. SO GOOD. Thanks for taking a busman’s holiday, you guys.craig and avery

This week we are also celebrating our NEW SUMMER INTERN! (insert fireworks and horns and huzzahs here). Abigail has set straight to work, finishing up the last of the hop trellising, helping build a Tomato Fort, and planting out grape vines, peas, and parsley. Words can’t quite express how grateful we are to have such motivated, capable and insightful assistance and company. Did I mention, she likes bicycles just as much as we do!?  A special thank you to Black Hills State University for giving us the opportunity to host a student intern. We’re really looking forward to getting to share the summer with you, Abigail.

The Tomato Fort (pictured below) is a straw bale ring (one bale high) to house seed trays between the greenhouse and the field. A halfway fort to help harden off some of our starts before transplanting. The bales will allow them adequate exposure, yet help protect the little ones from excessive winds and, should we need to, we can cover over them at night with remay for protection from low temperatures. The fort floor is lined with a thick paper bag mulch which is doubling as weed suppression. This will hopefully come in handy in a few weeks when we are getting ready to plant out our sweet potato slips in this same spot.

tomato fort_appleblossoms_dandelions_chickens

And in other news (a note from Trish): Nearly two weeks ago, I found a nest in one of the spruce trees by the chicken coop. I’ve been exceptionally good about leaving well alone and not interfering. But this afternoon I caved. It couldn’t be helped. LOOK!!

robins nest_May9_May21

 

kale grex

Last spring, we ordered a breeders’ kale grex from an excellent seed farm in the Pacific Northwest (originally from Peters Seed and Research, we got it from Adaptive Seeds). A seed grex is a wildly diverse genetic pool, from lots of different varieties which have been allowed to interbreed. Instead of planting a packet of what it bred/selected, hybridized or OP, as one true variety (i.e.  Red Russian, Lacinato, Rainbow Lacinato, Blue Curled Scotch, etc.), the grex is intentionally diverse and used by breeders to develop new varieties or grown by adventurous home gardeners. Here’s a view of our kale grex trial (circa August 2013): OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even as seedlings, with their first true leaves, we observed an amazing diversity between plants. Leaf colors ranging from blue, blue-green, grass-green, dark green, and grey. The stem colors too: green, white, red, purple. Leaf shape and edge – each little plant wonderfully different. In the greenhouse amid trays of uniform(ish) starts, the grex trays were rouge, dissident, where everyday was Hawaiian Shirt Day.

Our kale grex project will allow us to select for preferred variety characteristics and ultimately develop a kale specifically adapted to thriving in this region. A unique kale that conveys the magnificent terroir of the Northern Hills, a Spearfish Valley kale.

In kale, we are especially interested in and will select for flavor, cold hardiness, strong healthy plants that show resistance towards pest and disease pressure, and tolerance for abuse and neglect due to distracted farmers. Kale, being biennial, seeds in its second year. We had a big selection event this winter: extreme cold without the insulation of a snow cover (remember the several consecutive days of -18F in November, and again in December.. and then again in February?). Out of 120 plants, we had 2 plants survive this winter.  The grex trial was planted in a row immediately adjacent to our White Russian Kale, a variety which is reputed to be the most super hardy winter survivalist. We lost all of the White Russian, even they couldn’t take the extreme cold temperatures. But these two plants rallied through. Hardier than the hardiest. Here are photos of the remaining grex (circa last week):kale grex survivors

We’ll collect and save seed from these two to grow out again – some this fall and another round next spring. Over the course of years we will select for the traits that we’re most excited about.

As regards breeding delicious vegetables, here are some words from Frank Morton, a plant breeder in the PNW. We fancy his lettuce.

farm update, with bonus photos!

We’ve wrapped up our beet and kohlrabi planting and have tucked in to warm our fingers. The early morning misty drizzle has evolved to a drippy, more stout rain. Quickly turned snow. It’s a good time for a farm update.

The greenhouse is glowing these days. We’ve just started pulling out radishes, baby bok choy will be next. Greenhouse April 27th

The earliest seeds have been sown out in the back field. Snap peas, garlic, and spinach have already popped up and favas, radishes, turnips, carrots, and beets should follow soon.  It’s snowing now, but the soil has already warmed up this spring; once this melts off we’ll transplant out our earliest kales, mustard greens, lettuce, and green onions.

We have added a few more fruit trees into the orchard. A couple of these are Evans cherries – especially cold hardy, tart cherries, which already seem quite at home here. We had the opportunity to learn how to graft at the MOSES conference scion exchange and, this past week, we planted four trees that we grafted ourselves(!) – three apples and a pear. Two of the apples are already budding from the scion wood end, the other apple and pear are either late budders or we botched the graft. in the orchard with sheep

Much of our time in the field these days has been shuffling things around. Materials handling: moving straw bales out to the beds for mulching, spreading wheelbarrows of compost, laying down wood mulch, flipping and sifting the compost pile, cleaning out the coop, leading sheep out to the field in the morning, herding them back to the garage at night, carting out seed trays, piling brush, vine clippings, and downed branches.

We are applying compost to the especially heavy feeders like the hops and ginger, and adding it to help build soil in the close windmill bed. We’ll be using straw bales again this year for hilling the potatoes. It worked well last year, not only for hilling the plants, but also for weed suppression and it made harvesting easy-breezy. Straw bales will go out in other rows too. Last year, we found mulching the beds worked well for keeping in soil moisture, providing lovely habitat (for worms, spiders, snakes, insects… and pocket gophers) and for reducing the amount of time we had to spend weeding the beds. Heavy mulch made a pretty good dent in our quack grass, and by keeping the soil so moist and loose (by worms, etc), the remaining rhizomes are a lot easier to remove in big pieces than in past years.  It will still take a number of years before our rows are mostly clean, but we’re making progress.  We have to wait until the soil warms further to see how the straw is doing with the bindweed/creeping jenny, that one will certainly prove a harder challenge. We’re using woodchips from a local landscaper for mulching grape vines and hops, as well as between the rows in the front field to help reduce weed growth.

Everything is pruned for the season and now things are starting to bud out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’re feeling grateful for the help we’ve received this spring. Not only are the extra hands literally very helpful, it’s also a treat to get to spend time with friends and family. It means heaps that you are willing to spend your time out here with us, getting dirty.

We’d like to share special, super enthusiastic and muddy high-fives with SDSU’s Horticulture Club. HOLY SMOKES. Yesterday, a van-full of students from SDSU came out to the farm and helped us get a whole layer of cobbing done on the north wall of the greenhouse. With excellent conversation and in less than an hour we accomplished twice as much as it takes the two of us a full, long morning to do. Not only did these strong hands help us with the cobbing, they also offered us a short course in lamb/livestock husbandry, organic pest control techniques, and worm barrel composting. This is the future of agriculture in South Dakota – better hold on to your hat, Chicoine. Comrades in mud, thank you. Please come back again.

Here are some photos from our work together.cobbing1

Many hands. Muddy work.cobbing2

The greenhouse is designed as a passive solar structure. The north wall is strawbale and cob. The strawbales provide insulation. The cob (6ish”) will serve as thermal mass.cobbing3

Farm touring, talking no-till organic vegetable production, and checking in on sprouting hops.

We’re prepping beds for potatoes this week and we are hosting a POTATO PLANTING PARTY! We have 6 different varieties we’ll be planting this Friday evening, May 2. We’ll start at 5:30, bring a friend, dress for the weather. We’d love to have your help and share in the merriment of community, soil, and potatoes.

bonus photos from the farm! (and corresponding sentence fragments.) Planting our saved seed is even more fun. Compost flipped and cooking. We found a snake in the greenhouse. Lambs are enjoying foraging.saved seed_snake_140_sheepGinger is presprouting in coir. Lambs enjoy exploring the coop. The birds don’t so much appreciate the lambs exploring their coop. A pink ladybug! a pink one!
ginger_lambs_birds_pinkladybug

Enter: LAMBS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlease join us in welcoming three new farm hands, Feste, Bottom, and Speed. Introducing: our new pasture management committee. They came to the farm on April 1st and are thus named after good fools*. Currently residing in a strawbale nest arranged in the north bay of the garage, these little ones will eventually, this summer, be pastured out in the orchard. We’re looking forward to employing their services for mowing and soil fertility in rotation ahead of the broilers. The lambs will be rotated through the pasture in a fenced area, trimming the grass/weeds/etc. and adding their natural fertilizer, spurring new tender green growth and insect activity. Then we’ll move the birds through in chicken tractors, giving them more ready access to soft tender shoots and tasty bugs. The lambs will help provide good pasture and forage for the chickens and will provide us with happy, healthy meat.

feeding time

These guys are now just over one week old. Bottle feeding is getting easier, especially since building a bottle stand.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAradish and lambs

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They are everything adorable and lively and lovely and loud. We have a new anthem at the farm these days: Baby, don’t you tear my clothes. We’re very much looking forward to the end of their early, frequent feeding schedule and the renewal of our sleep schedule. Neither of us has experience with livestock beyond the chickens and worm wrangling. We have been studying up with stacks of library books and online guides. All helpful, but really, we are most grateful for our tremendously supportive mentors, the Barnaud’s and Kelly Knispel. Thank you for your sage advise and encouragement.

rosemary, celery, salvia

In other news: Pace is quickening with these longer days. We laid out thick mulch in the walkways between beds in the front field to help suppress weeds (the mulching formula: a base layer of imbricated barley bags from our neighborhood brewery, with a thick overlaying mantle of chipped wood mulch). The fruit trees are almost all pruned. We are beginning to prepare beds, planting peas, favas. We’ve resumed cobbing work in the greenhouse. Readying ginger to presprout in the basement. The house is bulging with germinating seed trays. Garlic has sprouted. Jeremy is scooting over to Bozeman to pick up potatoes from the Kimm’s (who grow excellent seed potatoes, hire handsome farmhands, and offer inspiration for land stewardship). The chickens are enjoying the thawed earth and recent surge of available protein; Polly, in particular, enjoys hopping over the fence and eating Jeremy’s field pea cover crop. We are scheming Spearfish Bike Week, ag land preservation options, and outdoor kitchen/vegetable prep area.seeds_preps_cob_starts

*see Shakespeare. Feste, the clever, free-range fool in Twelfth Night; Bottom, the weaver, the comical braggart from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; Speed, a fun, mischief maker in Two Gentlemen of Verona.

 

losing chickens

It was a bummer when we lost a bird to a red tail hawk last summer, but there was also something ok with it… something out of our control, something about the food chain and nutrient cycling. The redtail went after the little one – the baby guinea – and she ate it all up. We watched her pull it apart as she was perched up on the hop trellis. It was a good reminder that we are growing, farming, with nature.  We’re growing at nature’s mercy, really, and we are appreciative.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

However, it is harder to find consolation when losing birds to a dog. It seems a much more careless, savage death. A waste. The dog’s not hungry, just playing. The other night we got about 8″ of snow, and as a result most of the birds were cozied up, comfortable in the coop. First thing in the morning we opened their pop door, despite the snow – we like to give them the option of enjoying the day outside. A big handsome husky found his way into the coop. Radish alerted us to the dog. Jeremy bolted out to chase it away. We lost four birds. Part of what’s so troublesome about this is that it is counter to the attention and love that we have in caring for the animals, which includes providing them a deliberate, thoughtful, humane death.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Makes me think back to when we first got started up here. Radish got one of our neighbor’s birds. A beautiful old hen named Nutmeg. I was mortified. I’m still mortified. Our neighbor actually consoled me, graciously telling me how she was a old hen, probably not laying anymore, not even worth stewing, dogs are dogs, etc., etc. Ever since, Radish has been on leash lock-down if she’s anywhere near birds. And I have a fair amount of work to do to build up my losing livestock calluses.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’re feeling pretty blue around here. Salvaging the birds for stew and setting to repair the fencing. The ground is still frozen, so for the time being, we’ve “patched” the fence with pallets. Not ever having butchered laying hens before, we got exposure to a little bit of different anatomy. Athena even had a hard-shelled egg right ready to drop. We’re headed over to a friend’s ranch tomorrow to learn about raising bum lambs. Which means we’ll need more/better fencing. And I’ll need thicker calluses.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We just finished dinner. Jeremy made butter chicken curry, with farm potatoes and peppers. Finished with a poem – A Prayer After Eating, by Wendell Berry

I have taken in the light
that quickened eye and leaf.
May my brain be bright with praise
of what I eat, in the brief blaze
of motion and of thought.
May I be worthy of my meat.

pi(e) Day Index


pie

2nd annual π/Pie Day at the farm
50 degrees, sunny
23 people
4 happy dogs
4 years old, youngest pie celebrant
3.14 mile route
6 runners, 7 walkers
2 tandems, 3 bikes and a tag-a-long
2.5 trash bags-full picked up along the route
$189.77 raised for the Spearfish Bike Coop
13 pies!
1 big bowl of whipped cream
4 quarts of hot apple cider
1 car stuck in the mud, same 1 removed

…and some that can’t quite be quantified so easily: so much fun!, heaps of good conversation, delicious foods, merrymaking; and infinite thanks.morepieThank you, everyone, for joining us in celebrating pie, community, the Bicycle Coop, and wonderful, mathematical phenomena! We raised almost $200 in donations for the Spearfish Bike Coop, to help pay for rent on the workshop space and buy tools. Hooray! And we are continuously wowed by your culinary craftsmanship. Russian vegetable pie, salmon quiche, tamale pie, berry, apple, pecan… everything delicious.

pie distributionOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

snowy day farm bouquet

We’ve put together our very first Cycle Farm Seed Catalog! A special Cycle Farm bouquet, just in time to share on this soft, white, snowy morning. Here are some colors from our seed selection to brighten your day, a little something to stimulate your rods and cones. Here is a link to our bouquet catalogue, with descriptions and ordering information. Wishing you happy dreams of spring!

sunflowers

Farm sunflower cocktail

TORCH

Torch Mexican Sunflower

marigolds

Marigolds

echinacea

Echinacea, purple coneflower

calendula

Calendula, Resina

zinnias

Salmon Rose Zinnia

bachelorbuttons

Bachelor’s Buttons

While you are planning out your vegetable beds and what types of tomatoes to grow this year, don’t forget to plant for the bees, butterflies, and birds. Plant flowers. Emerson said it: the earth laughs in flowers.BIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES

We’ve also been saving a variety of vegetable seed, but would like another season growing before sharing these. Look for a new, expanded catalog out next year, including eggplant, tomatillos, tomatoes, squash, melon, lettuce, and herbs.

saving seed: tomatillos

All our seed orders are in and now packages brimming with seed packets are arriving pert near everyday. Our table has been buried for quite some time now in a thick mantle of books, notes, calendars, charts. It’s seed season, our minds are racing with numbers, and our hearts are full of hope.

We’ve got seeds on the brain these days and are extra specially looking forward to the very first annual Spearfish Seed Swap in a couple weeks. Mark your calendar: Saturday Feb 22nd, 2:30-5PM at the public library.

To celebrate the occasion and help muster enthusiasm for the joy of seed saving, I’ve put together a few words on saving tomatillo seed.

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How to save tomatillo seed.

Pick out the very best looking tomatillos from your most healthy, strong, vigorous open-pollinated tomatillo plants. Open-pollinated varieties produce offspring that is true-to-type, versus hybrids where  the next generation may not exhibit the same characteristics as its parents.  We usually pick from 4-5 of the top tomatillo plants in order to help ensure some degree of genetic diversity. You’ll know the tomatillo is ripe, and the seeds are ready to collect, when the fruit has filled out the paper lantern wrapper and the paper begins to split/dry at the base.

Remove the wrappers. Cut up the fruit into wedges and pop them into a blender. And gently bbzZzzZzzzzz them up into a cheerful, bright green tomatillo slurry. The seeds are small and robust and won’t be damaged by the blade.saving tomtatillo seed_blender

Then pour this slurry into a tall container and add water. I would suggest using a clear glass or mason jar for this, so you can see what’s happening. Mix this up with a spoon or chop stick. The good, viable seed will sink down to the bottom of the container.saving tomtatillo seed_pouring

Pour off the floating green slurry and any floating seeds, adding water and pouring again until the water is clear and the seeds at the bottom are all that’s left. Then sieve out the seeds and lay them out evenly on a coffee filter or thin cloth.saving tomtatillo seed_drying

Let the seeds dry in a dark place, with good air circulation. Be sure to fuss around with them a bit while they are drying, mix them up so they don’t dry all stuck together. When they are all dry, seal them up in an air tight container and store them in a dark spot. You’ll know they are dry enough for storage when the seed breaks instead of bends under pressure. Just pick one out and bite it, if it’s bendy or soft, let them dry out more. Also, very important: label your seeds! Make sure you keep track of the seed variety and date grown.

Another very important: Share your seeds with neighbors and friends.

Easy! No stinky fermentation process, no winnowing. And just think of next summer’s gloriously refreshing salsa verde! (…and more salsa verde!)

veggiebeautyshot_tomatillo

Here are some seed saving resources we’ve found helpful and inspiring:
The Seed Ambassadors Project Seed Saving Guide
John Navazio, The Organic Seed Grower
Suzanne Ashworth, Seed to Seed
Carol Deppe, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties
Organic Seed Production and Saving, the NOFA guidebook
Janisse Ray, The Seed Underground

See you at the Seed Swap!

2013 farm review

We have been taking advantage of the quiet time this winter to pull out the assorted notebooks/ receipts/spreadsheets and synthesize, reflect on, and digest the farm finances from our previous year.  Last year we put off doing taxes until the beginning of April which added a lot of stress to an already busy time. We learned from this, and with the advice from our smart farmer friends at Bear Butte Gardens, we’re tackling this earlier and have blocked out two weeks to review farm finances and get taxes filed before the busy farm season begins.  Now that we have a couple seasons of data, we can start comparing and seeing trends over time, and put more robust thoughts together regarding our farm business plan. Having our management and methods be as transparent as possible is important to us. Here are some of our numbers and thoughts from 2013, a review of our markets and production, and goals for this next season.

A reflection on farm finances for 2013 – In 2013, our second year growing full-time, we increased our gross sales by 54% over 2012 and it looks possible that we might see similar numbers next year. A big part of this increase was due to an increased number of CSA shares offered and an increase in the price per share.  We also increased our distribution to include one local restaurant and one local grocery market.  Our total income from the weekly Spearfish Farmers Market decreased significantly this year even though our average weekly sales increased, due to a shorter season (14 weeks instead of 24).

winterwork

In the process of our review, we have assessed the numbers on our laying hen operation and found it to be a considerable money sink. It turns out we are spending nearly twice as much on the certified organic feed as we are making on sales of eggs. Despite this, we’re keeping the layers and their good diet for their assorted incalculable, intangible benefits. We’ve made the decision to increase the cost of our eggs, this increase will still not cover the full cost of keeping the birds, but it will help.  And in addition to the hens, this year we’ll be pasturing meat birds which should prove to be more financially reasonable for us. (As a side note, we’re taking pre-orders on birds, give us a call to reserve).

winter chickens

An important question in our financial review is how close we are to our goal of having the farm support us.  This year the farm paid for its own immediate operation (seeds, tools, supplies, etc.), but did not pay for our labor, contribute to farm or personal savings, or cover the cost of the land, or walk-in cooler.  We are certainly much closer than last year towards covering all farm expenses, however generating the income to pay labor is a longer term goal.

Many farms (including ours) subsidize operations by not taking into account the farmers’ labor. However, we are aware of this, don’t agree with it, and our long term (5 year) budget planning includes paying a living wage to both of us.  A rough estimate of the income needed to pay for our labor looks like this:

60 hrs/week   (for Trish (working off farm part time) and Jeremy (full time on farm)                                      combined, year average, more in summer, less in winter, includes                                        field work, time at market, advertising, planning, website maintenance, etc).

$15/hour        (living wage and health insurance and overhead costs)

52 weeks/year

$46,800 annual wages for both T&J

+ farm expenses, which are (estimated) between $10-15,000/year (variable value based on having to replace irrigation or other spendy infrastructure, and so on) = $61,800 required gross farm sales. Which is huge.

Considering our current production rates this number is absurd, but it is feasible from our acreage with smart planning and intensive farming.

If we run the numbers with a lower wage, which reduces our long term savings, but is maybe more attainable short term: 60 hrs/ week at $10/ hr for 52 weeks = $31,200 (T&J combined wages w/o farm expenses)

…which compared to our income this year is still huge. We feel a bit more confident that this might be attainable in 5 years.

These numbers are discouraging, but they don’t factor in our quality of life and absolutely incredible pantry.

Projecting our financing into this coming year we expect to increase total sales which will allow us to pay off the walk-in, continue to pay off a portion of the greenhouse (on a 5-10 year plan), pay our health insurance fees, and possibly pay Jeremy something for his labor. In addition, our expenses should decrease as we’ve saved seed, installed most major infrastructure, and accumulated most small tools to allow us to operate efficiently.

A review of our marketing outlets – In 2013, we offered 16 CSA shares for an 18 week season. The cost of our shares was $500 and we are pleased that despite the weather challenges, we filled the shares and exceeded the cost of the shares with vegetables.  Being involved with our customers via the CSA plan has been a tremendous asset to us as beginning farmers. The predetermined market helps us plan plantings and harvest. We really value hearing about how things were eaten, shared, enjoyed and receiving immediate, direct feedback. The CSA allows us to grow a diversity of vegetables, knowing that we have an outlet, rather than focusing on a few good sellers for market. That diversity is also risk management with tenuous weather, pests, crop failure, etc.  Through the CSA, we’ve gotten a chance to know a truly incredible cross section of Spearfish, engaged, thoughtful, inspiring group of people who are almost as excited about eating vegetables and building the local food system as we are. Another perk to the CSA is having potato leek soup delivered to us by a share member after an especially long CSA harvest and pick-up day. The only disadvantages to the CSA we‘re finding at this point is that it takes a considerable amount of planning, and that it can be high stress, especially in the beginning of the season during low production, worrying about filling shares amply.

We participated in the weekly Spearfish Farmers Market in the Park. Attending the Market means we have a weekly early morning bicycle ride to the park and 4 hours committed to being away from the farm and chores there (which has its perks, though is often frustrating).  The Market provides a venue to sell vegetables that we either have surplus of or not enough to fill CSA shares with. It fills an advertising role, a bit.  And the Market gives us a chance to visit with a lively group of area growers each week that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see until October. On the other hand, we are finding the Market does not pay for our time (production, harvest, and time spent selling). We cannot compete with low prices set by home growers trying to off-load their surplus.  And we are often left with unsold produce at the end of a long morning which is a challenge to deal with. We feel strongly that Spearfish deserves, needs, and can support a Farmers Market and we would love to continue to be a part of it – despite it being a drawback for our immediate economics. Ultimately, by supporting the Market, it means we are being a part of something precious in Spearfish and we’re sticking with it.

Last year we expanded our distribution to include wholesale to a restaurant and a grocery market. By getting local produce into markets and restaurants, we’re making locally grown food available to more people than we reach through our direct outlets – which feels especially good.  We found wholesale to be a relatively simple, efficient way to move a fair amount of produce.  We took grapes to the Red Barn Market – at a point when the weekly market had already ended, but we were still sitting on bushel baskets of them. The owner/main chef at Killian’s who we work with is creative, enthusiastic, and incredibly flexible, working magic into the menu with whatever we brought him each week. As a couple of beginning farmers, we are truly grateful for the support of our wholesale markets.

A small percentage of our sales are direct from the farm. A big benefit to this market is that it brings people to the farm and gives them an opportunity to see how things are growing and for us to share and answer questions.  It’s also usually convenient for us in that we are here already and don’t have to pack up and lug stuff anywhere, however it will be more convenient when/if we get a farm stand set up and establish set shop hours. Although direct from the farm is our lowest volume of sales, sales are mostly to people who are not CSA members and we don’t necessarily see at the Farmers Market.

Some of our especially meaningful successes from 2013 – We increased production despite more challenging weather. With much help from Jeremy’s father, we built a walk-in cooler, which has increased our efficiency and reduced our stress. And as a result, during peak season, we are now running one air conditioner part-time vs. 3 refrigerators full-time. We were able to increase our off-farm time, getting more engaged in events in the community (volunteering at the Bike Coop, planning Bike Week, time with family and friends). And we became a bit more efficient with our sociable time on-farm as well. During our first year of farming we had many, frequent, spontaneous visitors come by to tour the farm, ask questions, chit chat and be all-round excited/curious about what we were doing. It is amazing how fast 2 hours can go when you’re visiting about vegetables.  And now consider giving on average 3 farm tours a week. This is something we both love, sharing ideas and engaging with people via the farm is important to us, but as regards managing our farm and time efficiently, this is something we are struggling to find a balance with.  During our first season, the frequent visits were partly a treat and great fun, but also distracting and an unexpected time commitment.  This past year we did a better job of being courteous and taking time to visit, while maintaining efficiency with farm visitors.

Our biggest challenges, shortcomings during 2013 – In part because the season was so truncated by weather, we had fewer on-farm events this past year than we had originally planned. We have already sat down with a 2014 calendar and set aside dates and tentative dates for several on-farm and farm related activities. We’ll keep you posted on the seed swap, food preservation workshop, potato planting, weeding and harvest parties, farmer Jeremy’s big 30 birthday bash, and more. We did not get as much work done on the greenhouse as we had planned. Access to a good source of clay continues to limit progress on the cobbing and plaster of the straw bale walls. A significant challenge we are having is making our produce accessible to a wider, low-income market.  Making good food accessible to everyone is something we are passionate about. We are working out a way to both meet farm expenses and provide affordable produce – and we are very open to suggestions.

Our most successful crops for 2013 – Summer squash, snow and snap peas, chard and lettuces did well. We had a great potato yield and absolutely stunning cabbages.

Least successful crops for 2013 – We are still struggling to get good crops of beets and cilantro. Over half of our garlic rotted in the field this spring. We lost our entire crop of popcorn to the early snow in October.  The short season also meant most of our winter squash did not ripen to maturity.

Goals for 2014 – This next year, we’re going to put special efforts towards more efficient production, increasing yield from our bed space through planting schedules and successions, especially in the greenhouse. We hope to increase involvement with our community through on-farm and off-farm events, educational workshops, work parties and farm tours. We are looking forward to being more proactive in facilitating or opening dialogues on building local economy, small-scale, place-based agriculture, sustainable/adaptive technology, and adaptation as regards climate change. Already this year, we have started implementing better organizational structures for managing calendars and recordkeeping. In the past our recordkeeping system has been an accumulation of scraps of paper, old receipts, several notebooks, spreadsheets and calendars. Enough of that. And finally, we’d really like to get the outdoor kitchen/vegetable wash and prep area all set up and functioning this year.

winter greenhouse

We are looking forward to 2014: building on the good, figuring out the puzzles, and learning throughout.  We will be planting in the greenhouse next week and soon we’ll be filling CSA shares. The field crop rotations are more diverse this year and we have our plans laid out for more efficiently utilizing space throughout the season, two or sometimes three crops out of a single bed.  And maybe just because we feel like the farm is starting to blossom, we’re putting in an additional seventy feet of flower beds.