year in review, 2014 farm digest

We’re already moving quickly into the 2015 season. Seed orders are coming in, boxes packed to brimming are arriving daily. The greenhouse is planted and sprouting in radishes, spinach, beets and lettuce. It’s a party in the greenhouse these days, complete with cotyledon confetti. The chickens are providing us and our neighbors with a plentitude of rich, delicious eggs. And we’ve just opened early registration for our CSA shares. Gears are in motion.

A big part of our winter is spent tallying figures, pouring over spreadsheets, reflecting on the previous year(s) and planning for the next season. It’s important to us to share our thoughts and perspective on farm management, methods and finances. We believe this transparency is key in a strong, healthy food system. And along this vein, we welcome feedback and suggestions. We are learning how to make this work efficiently, holistically, and realistically – any and all input is much appreciated.

A brief reflection on farm finances for 2014 – In 2014, we increased our gross sales by 46% over 2013. Although we increased the number of CSA shares offered, this accounted for less than half of our increased sales. A good portion of these new sales came from pre-CSA season vegetable sales to local restaurants and the Red Barn Market, seed and start sales, and broiler chickens.  This coming year, we will maintain the same number of CSA shares, but we plan on increasing our wholesale markets, broiler chicken numbers, hope to increase egg production, and expand seed and start sales.

A review of our marketing outlets – In 2014, we offered 20 CSA shares for an 18 week season (this was an increase from 16 shares offered in 2013).  We ended up filling shares for 19 weeks, as an early round of bok choi encouraged a pre-season bonus share. Our weekly shares were full, but not brimming as we would have liked. This is a reflection of both the challenging weather and us not keeping up with our crop plan. We were disappointed that many of our beloved, warm season, fruity crops (eggplant, tomatillos, peppers, lemon cukes) never quite made it to maturity before the early September frost. These are the especially fun things to have in the CSA, and not having those to include was a let down for us. We did however have a stellar crop of beets, over and over again. Which is totally worth celebrating. We had roughly 60% retention rate of share members, with people moving and changing lifestyles. In the future, we would like to meet a retention rate of at least 70-80%.

We participated in the weekly Spearfish Farmers Market in the Park. Our experience with this is much the same as it was last year. We’ve been torn as to whether or not we should continue with this market as it does not pay for our time (production, harvest, time spent selling), yet there are things about it that we value a whole helluvalot.  After following the holistic decision making framework, we decided that, despite financial misgivings, we will continue going to the Farmers Market next year.

A new market we’ve added this year is the South Dakota Online Local Foods Co-op, a year-round online farmers market. This is something we are completely jazzed about: cooperatively managed, direct to consumer sales, all local. We’re looking forward to watching the Co-op grow as a strong local market connecting consumers to producers throughout the Black Hills area, potentially bridging statewide in the future. Our plan is sell through the Co-op primarily during the winter months.

Our wholesale distribution last year was mostly limited to pre- and post-CSA season deliveries. There are two restaurants in town that we are lucky to have support from. The kitchen crews at Killian’s Tavern and Dough Trader Pizza have both been tremendously flexible and willing to work with what’s available seasonally. We value getting to work with these local businesses and help put fresh, local foods on their menus. There is something intrinsically magic about this absolutely integral (yet rare in this area) connection between a farm and restaurant, we’re very much excited to be a part of this growing relationship in Spearfish. We’ve also received huge support from what often feels like our extended family at the Red Barn Farmers Market. This extraordinary little shop has become a crucial hub in our local food system, highlighting the work of local farmers and ranchers, and we are so grateful for it.  Having said this, we were not able to deliver as much as we would have liked throughout the growing season last year and are planning to grow more for wholesale to restaurants and the market this year.

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Direct sales from the farm included early spring seeds and starts, egg sales, chickens, grapes and hops, honey and christmas trees.  We have a pretty good array of diverse, complementary enterprises to accompany our vegetable production. Here is a breakdown of our 2014 sales per farm enterprise. Note: this is all but the vegetables.Print

Some of our especially meaningful successes from 2014 – Greenhouse management and production went well last year; great early season yields of greens and radishes, and tomatoes and cucumbers into November. We increased our CSA share numbers and community involvement, and kept up on our calendar and monitoring. Much of our success and happy times last year can be attributed to our amazing BHSU intern, Abigail McBride, crews of students, traveling volunteers, and community work parties who came out to help on projects throughout the season.

An enormous success on the farm last year was in pasture management. We ran three lambs, on daily rotation through our young orchard followed 1-2 weeks later by a chicken tractor. The result of this migration through the field was absolutely, hands down, the most awesome thing.  A textbook regimen for healthy soils, realized.  The stuff dreams are made of. The lambs were our introduction to small livestock(mammal) management. They were a joy to be around and we appreciate the work they’ve done. We slaughtered and butchered them on the farm in October and now our freezer is full of some of the most incredible meat either of us have ever had. The small broiler operation last year went well. We raised 120 chickens on pasture, butchered on farm, and sold them through pre-orders. Feedback from customers has been overwhelmingly positive, so our plan is to do this again next year – adding two more butcher dates. 2014 was also a pivotal year for us in terms of stress management and communication (we learned heaps about handling and supporting each other when we’re tired and edgy). All this and we found a new-to-us TIG welder.

Our biggest challenges, shortcomings during 2014 – There were many challenges last year, we were tested both by things entirely within our control (time management) and things completely out of our control (weather).  The season felt abbreviated, both shortened by late spring and early September frost and generally cool temps throughout the growing season. We felt stretched thin in terms of off-farm commitments on top of our growing responsibilities. We farmed an additional 3/4 acre field north of town, essentially doubling our vegetable production area. This was a good learning experience as it was furrowed and flood irrigated. Our heavy duty drip tape that we hoped would last 5-7 years is suffering from mineral build-up at the emitters; we’re investigating how best to remedy this without having to junk the whole lot of tape.  A thriving gopher population has taken up residency in both the orchard and our vegetable beds (we’re discovering a few drawbacks to no-till, we’ll report on this in more detail soon).  We ran out of time planting this spring and didn’t get our dry beans in – which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t such a key player in our staple crop rotation. And we didn’t complete our mid-season planting and as a result had more empty beds that we would like come late summer/fall.

Most successful crops for 2014 - It was a great year for our herb garden, popcorn, green onions, beets and lettuces. We celebrated, with rapture, our first bountiful strawberry harvest. We aced arugula in the greenhouse and spinach in cold frames. Kale was stunning and sweet, oh, and the mustard greens!

Least successful crops for 2014 - We experimented with celtuce last year and, despite our high hopes, good intentions and it’s own reputed tastiness, our CSA members were skeptical and underwhelmed. We won’t be doing celtuce again this year. The same goes for Romanesco. After three years of growing lush, gorgeous plants that never quite get to heading, we’ve decided to use that row space to grow something with a better track record for yield. The cool temperatures of 2014 made it hard for peppers and eggplants. Our no-till methods and very efficient mulching on the potatoes made for wicked good gopher(vole?) habitat and forage. We inter-cropped popcorn and squash, planting them in alternating rows with the thought that the squash would help suppress weed growth around the corn. Weed suppression worked out alright, however, we did not anticipate the tight rows of corn shading out the squash and stunting fruit development.

Goals for 2015 - We’ve gone back to the drawing board on our crop map and rotation plan. Our original crop rotation plan has worked well, we’ve been really happy with it, but it’s not capable of doing some things we want, so we’re scrapping it. We are rearranging our field crops this year in order to facilitate harvest, irrigation, weeding, row covering, and monitoring. We are super jazzed to try this out. Another benefit of this new field layout is that we’ll be able to implement season extension modular, mobile poly-tunnels. We’re planning on building 2 tunnels, each covering 4 full rows, which will amplify temperatures and extend the season for peppers, eggplants, and cucumbers, as well as getting an early start on 2016 spring greens. This season we are putting a focus on increasing quantity and quality of our vegetable production, especially through decreasing empty rows/time, efficient use of crop land, reducing excessive crop diversity, and honing in on varieties we grow well and have a strong market for. We will not be increasing the number of CSA shares offered this year, instead we’ll focus on beefing up the quantity of vegetables in each share. Additionally, we’d like to have regular/weekly deliveries to local restaurants and market, and a farm stand on farm. We’re excited to see how the orchard pasture recovers and adjust our management accordingly. Also, we’d like to resume regular blog posts. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

best of beards

Cycle Farm, bearded since 2012.

Dear friends,

It has occurred to me that our photos from the farm show a decisively striking trend (granted, a trend that’s generally decisive, but not at all striking, regarding perhaps most farms). Beards. Humbly, I have compiled a ‘best of’ collection, beards from the farm which I am so very, very pleased to share with you. These images are wildly uncanny, at times ridiculous, and admittedly enchanting. It is with enormous joy that I present to you the following assemblage of bearded charm from Cycle Farm over these past few years.

With warm regards, Trish

best beard club1ibest beard club1hbest beard club1jbest beard clubbest beard club best beard clubbest beard club1d

(also, mustachios)best beard club_mustachios

Big love and high-fives to all my bearded, mustachioed comrades. XO -t

of easy wind and downy flake, winter happenings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe get asked frequently about how winter is going, “what do you do in the winter?” It seems as though a small-scale farmer in the winter, in South Dakota, is a strange, curious specimen – as though we were in an elusive club with Santa and rodeo clowns.  We’d like to share with you how we’re spending our time these days, our winter to-do list.

1. Reflection and review: taxes, review finances and budgets, reflect on our previous growing seasons, what techniques worked well, what didn’t.

2. Planning: reevaluating and restructuring our crop rotation plan, plotting the planting calendar, seed inventory and selection, figuring out the cover crop schedule, selecting fruit trees, planning budgets, livestock and pasture management ruminations.

review and reflection

3. Reading: we’re both powering through a thick reading list this winter. Our public libraryand interlibrary loan are amazing resources.

4. Conferences and workshops: Winter (along with our much appreciated farm-sitters) gives us an opportunity to head off-farm to different conferences and classes to learn heaps and recharge. In November, we went down to New Mexico to reconnect with friends at the Quivira Coalition conference  (check out this presentation, Fred Kirschenmann on farming methods and thoughts from the past into the future, and this one too, Dorn Cox on Soil and Silicon).  In a couple weeks, Jeremy is headed to a seed production and breeding workshop lead, in part, by some of our favorite seed growers. Additionally, Trish is facilitating the Farm Beginnings course this year in Rapid City.

5.  Arts and crafts: sewing, knitting, woodworking projects, block prints, painting, spinning. Assorted and absurd indoor creative outlets.arts and crap3

6. Infrastructure design/build, tool maintenance, work on the greenhouse, vegetable wash area, day-dreaming plans for a farm stand and wood fired oven, planning a PV system (and lamenting SD solar incentives).solar

7. Restful time with friends and family. Pancake breakfasts, extreme snowshoeing, ardent board games, sending care packages, eating ice cream. Connecting with our inspiring farmer friends over bottles of wine, plotting chicken feed collectives and local food systems.

8. Cooking, baking, enjoying foods we put up last year. Exploring amazing lamb recipes.

9. Scheming: winter is planning time for Spearfish Bike Week, a seed swap (coming up here soonFeb 22nd), Pi Day and summer farm events. So much to look forward to. seed swap banner

10. Teaching Radish new tricks. Last winter, Radish dazzled us by learning a one-command multi-part trick, “How do you want your mocha this morning?” She’s now working on a pawkour routine (a la parkour). She’s got hellagood ninja inspiration.

Panoramdemonium 2014

Woolly socks. Sleeping dog. The tea kettle, spitting, hot on the stove. Seed catalogs stacking up. Jeremy scheming crop rotations. A productive, yet wonderfully restful winter.

It has become a tradition, in the beginning of the year, to reflect back on the previous year through photos from our quarterly monitoring exploits. Here we are, panoramdemonium 2014. If you’d like to start from the beginning, check out 2012 and 2013. Like traditions tend to do, ours has morphed, it’s evolving – a smidge. We embrace tradition and revolution equally around here, after all.

Here is the view of the orchard and hop yard from the beehives over the course of the year.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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2014Dec_hopyard and bees_11x4And here is the view of our main vegetable field from the north gate.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince starting, we’ve added a number of points to help better track changes on the farm. We now have just about 25 spots that we take photos from four times a year. One of the photo points we’ve added, for instance, is a shot in the greenhouse.2014photomonitoring_in the greenhouse Also, since establishing points, we’ve made the somewhat frustrating / disappointing / unfortunate / we-should-have-known-better discovery that due to the dates we selected (solstices and equinoxes), we are missing much of what we are trying to monitor – peak growth during the summer.  June is early yet and by September, frost has already hit. We initially chose the solstice and equinox for monitoring dates because they were evenly spaced dates and easy to remember. Additionally, there seemed to be a certain poetry or romance with monitoring the passage of time on the farm according to the celestial seasons. Now, three years into this, we’ve concluded the monitoring dates are cute, sure, but not entirely effective and will need revisiting.  Perhaps photos from CSA week no.x? or Labor Day weekend? August 14th? We’ll figure something out and report back. Tradition, revised.

Winter gives us an opportunity to spend time working on plans for the next season, reflect on things that have worked well and things that haven’t worked and need tweaking. Having this bank of photos from the past years has provided fodder for ruminations and stimulated some good conversation.  Namely, when will we have time to get the back wall of the greenhouse cobbed? why is there always stuff (piles of wood chips, straw bales, folding tables, upside-down lawn chairs) in our front yard? how do we better manage our planting calendar to maximize yield from the greenhouse beds? and why doesn’t everyone plant fruit trees in their backyard? We’re putting together more thoughts about the year overall and are looking forward to sharing that  here soon.

Wishing you all a wildly happy and delicious New Year!  J&T

 

ginger

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGinger, ginger! Oh bliss! Oh glee!

We grew a trial batch of ginger this year. Here. In South Dakota. We had been introduced to high latitude ginger farming at the conference at Stone Barns, in the Hudson Valley. Even without a full, long season of heat, ginger can be grown in a greenhouse and harvested early, as baby ginger. Amazing ginger. It is touted as delicious, versatile, highly valued, easily marketable, and, of course, totally hip. And, as it turns out, the north wall of our greenhouse is a bit like the north shore of Hawaii. Happiness abounds!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Baby ginger is also called ‘pink ginger’ or ‘spring ginger’, sometimes ‘ginger’s mild-mannered younger sister‘.  Unlike the characteristically gnarly mature ginger, baby ginger has a more mild flavor and is less stringy. Plus it’s thin-skinned and doesn’t need to be peeled.

We are thrilled beyond measure to be including ginger in the CSA shares this season. CSA friends: on the off chance you need some ideas, things to think about and google recipes for, consider candied ginger, pickled ginger, tea, Kimchi, ginger juice cocktails, dried ginger. The greens can be added to a dish (soups, stir fry) while cooking for additional flavor, just remove them before serving as they are tough. You can also freeze your ginger, for use later this winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A few notes on storing your baby ginger: remove the fronds and store separately in the crisper drawer of your fridge. It may become rubbery, that’s ok. A clever NYTimes‘  Dining and Wine writer reports: ‘It keeps for up to two weeks in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic. It should stay moist, so wrap it in a damp paper towel. It can be frozen as well, packed in freezer bags. The younger the ginger, the more damage freezing does to the texture, so it will be too pulpy to chop; try grating the ginger directly into dishes while it is still frozen. You can also submerge ginger in a neutral spirit like vodka, and it will over time impart a delicate, spicy flavor.”

Here is some baby ginger reading from NPR, with recipes – Tickled Pink: Fresh, Young Ginger Is A Sweet Break From Gnarled Roots. And more smart ginger recipes, ideas from The Guardian, The 10 Best Ginger Recipes.

And here’s a recipe for The Best Homemade Ginger Tea Ever (from MindBodyGreen)

1 Tbsp. fresh grated ginger
2 cups filtered water
1 Tbsp. raw honey or pure maple syrup
½ lemon, juiced

Optional: 1 cinnamon stick, Chamomile flowers, Echinacea tincture, Fresh mint leaves, Pinch of cayenne pepper

Peel the ginger root (pink ginger probably does’t need peeling) with a peeler or with the handle of a spoon. Grate the ginger with a grater/zester. If you slice it, slice it thin and use more. Infuse the ginger; if you add cinnamon, mint, chamomile or cayenne, add it here. If you are using a saucepan, bring the water to a boil, add ginger and turn off heat. Put the lid on it and let it steep for 10 minutes. If you are using a teapot, add ginger in the teapot and pour boiling water in it. Let it steep for about 10 minutes. If you are using a saucepan, strain the water to remove the ginger. Add fresh lemon juice and natural sweetener if you like. Stir and enjoy! If you want a cold tea, let your tea cool down, store it in the fridge and add ice cubes before serving.

frost, Farm Aid, and feathers

We got our first hard frost on the farm last week. The cold snap was well forecasted, so we had just enough time time scurry around. But really, we could have used at least 3 more weeks. Cover up, tuck in, and haul out. Below are some photos and narrative.

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The grape harvest this year is great. We’re still working on getting the vines all oriented in a trellising style and on pruning cycle that works best and we like. It was great fun this summer watching the vines respond to compost tea applications (maybe it was the tea?). We have grapes for sale, contact us if you are interested. They’re Valliants which make excellent juice, jam, and jelly.hop harvest

Hops are in, spread out on screens, and drying. It was a late afternoon, turned full moon night harvest in order to get the cones in before the weather turned. Grateful for Randi’s help. This year, the hops will be dried and packaged in 1-oz vacuum sealed bags for local hombrewers. There are 16 different varieties, we were able to harvest from 6. The eventual goal is to get our Cascade row in production such that we have enough yield to take down the street to the brewery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We harvested out flats, boxes and bags, crates and coolers, bushel baskets and tubs of ripe and nearly-ripe produce from the field and spread out almost 1000ft of remay/row cover with well-wishes and hopes that what was left just might survive the snap.

under remay

A wet 1-1.5″ of snow the next morning greeted Jeremy early morning for the CSA day. (the newsletter is coming shortly, this week’s is online here). I took off on Wed afternoon to go to Raleigh, NC for Farm Aid leaving Jeremy to fly the farm solo.

Sept 11 CSA share

frost 25deg Fri AM

…and the following day it fell to 25 degrees. (Meanwhile, I’m visiting a farm in Raleigh where okra is growing over my head and raspberries are fruiting in excess, spreading out around a banana tree).

after the frost_devistating acres

By the time I returned, it was clear, summer had swan dived into a deep pool of autumn. She just peaced – didn’t even leave us one ripe watermelon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

There is an ever-growing list of things to do. Though after returning from Farm Aid, we’ve got some good new energies fueling us along.

As a farmer and member of Dakota Rural Action, I was invited to attend last weeks’ Farm Aid workshops, farm tours, and concert. Farm Aid has generated a loyal following for its big name, mega hip benefit concert.  However, Farm Aid is a whole helluvalot more than just a hip concert. Farm Aid represents an extensive and diverse national network of organizations and people, all advocates of small family farms (DRA is one of these). The three-day event began with inspiring keynote presentations and round-table discussions, offering a platform for exchanging ideas regarding how to cooperatively and effectively push policy changes and build strong, healthy food systems. It was an honor, a blast, and absolutely humbling to be surrounded by so many bright, motivated, passionate people. The following day, we got a chance to visit a couple local Raleigh city farms, featuring a farm incubator, a farm accelerator, and a banana tree. And finally the concert event, which was simultaneously jam-packed full of learning, sharing, and networking opportunities for folks around small farm topics. Thank you, DRA, for bringing me along.

Since getting back, I’ve been gushing to Jeremy about all the extraordinary highlights – three days, a lot to think about. Good fodder for conversation as we clean up what the frost left behind.

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One last thing: we have Cycle Farm chickens FOR SALE. We are butchering chickens this Sunday, September 21st. The birds came to the farm as day old chicks in the mail from a hatchery that specializes in pasture-raised poultry. The birds spent the summer on pasture, in tractors, in rotation a few days after the lambs. Along with natural forage on pasture, Jeremy has been mixing a feed to ensure they are getting the proper protein and minerals they need. The feed is a blend of organic and transitional whole grains, all non-GMO. The birds are doing really well, we’re pleased with how healthy and active they are. We’re also thrilled with the positive impact they are having on the land and vegetation in our orchard. They will be 11 weeks old and we’re hoping they will come in at around 3.5 – 4 lbs each, dressed weight. Our average weight for the first batch was 3.7 lbs, ranging from 2.9 to 4.5 lbs. On Sunday morning, we will slaughter and clean the birds, and cool them in an ice bath. If you are interested in purchasing some chicken, please let us know as soon as possible. We will have the birds available for pick up on Sunday afternoon from the farm. This way, if you want to cook it up fresh you can do that, or take it home to freeze whole or parted. We’ll be charging $4.50/lb for the birds. This price reflects the cost of the chicks, their feed, and, in part, their tractor, waters, spa membership fees – and hints at paying for our labor. Please contact us if you would like to reserve a bird(s) or have any questions.

-Trish

 

late August update, photos

The summer’s growth has crested into harvest. We’ve been trying to keep up. Here’s a bit of what’s happening.flowers putting up garlicThis was a great year for garlic; our new flower beds are showy as all get out; spending late nights processing junky, split and buggy tomatoes; our kale grex is ready to get out into the field.

bees bees and birdWe have two hives now, Pipi Longstocking and Heidi, both wild swarms, they are doing great; the herb beds are all bBbzzZZzzzy with native pollinators; and we have a hummingbird!! (a female ruby throated hummingbird, we’ve seen her regularly for 3 weeks now).

lambs hops rainbowHops are ready for harvest; a welcome light rain and double rainbow during chores this morning; the pasture management committee is hard at work and ruminating.

birds and seed

The lambs are followed by a chicken tractor: fresh grass, sheepshit, and bugs make for happy birds; our young birds from Sand Hill are growing up, with rose combs and hairy legs; seed saving is on full swing, and we’re already totally stoked about Spearfish’s second annual Seed Swap (stay tuned, next February).

csa so far

The CSA is going well. We’ve had beets in the shares and strawberries! SO GOOD. Our CSA members are such an incredible group of local food enthusiasts, we’re immensely grateful. Thank you, CSA, for sharing the season with us, for your bright smiles each week during pick-up and your courageous kitchen wizardry as we experiment with things like celtuce, fava greens, and sprouts. (If you’re interested, our weekly CSA newsletters are posted online here.)

We have been learning heaps. On the syllabus this summer: livestock and pasture management, blight and orchard care, experiments with row crop farming and flood irrigation, marketing meat birds, increasing production for our CSA, tax incentives for, and the difficulties of, encouraging ag land preservation, farm insurance. And time management, we’re learning about time management.

abigail

One of the absolute highlights this summer has been getting to host Abigail, a BHSU student intern from their Sustainability Program.

radish hoopingAlso, lastly, Radish and Jeremy are working on a new trick now that mocha is down (J: how do you want your mocha this morning, Radish? R: with whipcream and a double shot.) Radish has, believe it nor not, harnessed even more lust for life now that we have a freezer full of dehydrated chicken hearts and gizzards.

 

 

agrarian riddims, vol. 2

Last summer, we compiled a mixtape of good agrarian riddims after hearing a mixtape love letter to the parks. Since then, a few new songs have been brought to our attention. Here’s a lyrically potent B-side. A special new compilation for the summer. Both inspired by and dedicated to our favorite spoken word wizards: T.Payne, P.Jewett, and K.Hops.

Barrington Levy – Black Roses

Brushy One String – Chicken in the corn

Collieman – Farmerman Life

The Classics – Honey bee

Albarosie – Work

Don Carlos – Mr Sun

Rootz Underground – Farming

Tony Rebel – Fresh Vegetable

Keke - I Farmer Man

Quartiere Coffee - Italian Reggae Familia (feat. Albarosie as farmer)

Sister Carol – Veggie veggie

Don Carlos – Harvest Time

Max Romeo – Milk and Honey

Chezidek, Jah Mason, and Israel Voice – Farmland Medley

Movimiento Original – Natural

Trish’s new favorite: Mr Perfect – Handcart Bwoy

and finally, and of course, the Reggae Worms

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yours, with big beets and big beats, T&J

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