The Bluegrass Blog

Winter, fast and furious

Posted on November 27, 2018

Winter’s fast and furious arrival has us scrambling. It’s a lot harder to get the farm ready for winter when it’s already here!

The good news is that most of our greenhouse crops survived last week’s unseasonal plunge to -25. Thursday was the coldest day, but sunny, so we uncovered the plants to give them more light and air flow. Below you can see our staff Piotr uncovering the plants at the back of our long greenhouse, after we uncovered the front half.

By 11 am that day, it was still -15 outside, but greenhouse air temps were between 8 and 14 degrees! We don’t heat the air, so that was almost entirely the effect of the sun.

It was a good reminder of how effective, and how crucial, sunshine is for our system. Because we heat only the soil, we rely on sunshine (and the ‘greenhouse effect’) to warm the air to the point where plants will grow in winter. On cloudy days, the greenhouses are only a few degrees warmer than outside, which doesn’t support much growth at this point.


This fall has been unusually cloudy and cold. This graph is a recent 14-day forecast. The yellow and blue lines show daily highs and lows, while the grey dotted lines show average historical temperatures for this time of year.

Typically about 40% of daylight hours are sunny in the fall in our region, but this fall we’ve averaged only about 12%. Combined with subzero temps and snow much earlier than normal, our greenhouse yields are really suffering. We’ve had to stop our wholesales early to put everything we grow into our Fall CSA, which is a big financial loss for us.

Part of our motivation to get into farming was to learn to adapt to a changing climate. We invested in a heated greenhouse system because it offered us a buffer from outside growing conditions, extended our growing season and allowed us to produce more in a small area (offsetting the poor soil quality of our land). But as the weather continues to be less predictable and more extreme, it may be too risky for a small farm to rely on growth in the shoulder seasons. Our niche is very precarious: this year we lost a month of spring sales to April snow and ice storms, and a month of fall sales to cloudy weather and November snowstorms. Following a year of flooding in 2017 and a year of drought in 2016, there doesn’t seem to be any ‘normal’ weather anymore.
For now, we keep plowing through our winter prep list, just more slowly through a blanket of snow. With four weeks to go in our Fall CSA, our fingers are crossed for a little more sunshine, but we aren’t holding our breaths. “Our system is sun-driven,” Brad said to our neighbour the other day. “I’m sun-driven,” replied the neighbour.
Aren’t we all.
Leela

Spring Greens CSA Program

Posted on March 1, 2018

Ready to start eating fresh and local again? Our new Spring Greens CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program offers 10 weeks of certified organic greens from our greenhouses, from April to mid-June. Our goal is to help bridge the “hunger gap” in the spring, before most local produce is ready.

Each week, CSA members will receive 5-6 bags or bunches of freshly harvested greens ready for salad, smoothies, or cooking. Items will include mesclun (mixed salad), head and leaf lettuce, spinach, arugula, bok choy, baby kale, chard, mustard and Asian greens, microgreens, basil and more. Each box is worth $25 for a total share price of $250.

This is a pilot project, with possible pick-up locations at our farm (in Jasper), Kemptville and Ottawa. Locations will be confirmed in late March based on the level of interest. No payment is required until we confirm locations. Full payment will be required by the first pick-up in April.

If you would like to register, please complete this short form. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions.

Get a jump on spring and replenish your body with farm-fresh, organic, nutrient-dense greens! You will see and taste the difference from the grocery store.


Pass the Basalt!

Posted on January 29, 2018

Using rock minerals to improve carrot flavour and nutrition at Bluegrass Farm. 

“The ‘green revolution’ in Asia provided impressive steps forward with regards to food production, but in recent years the rate of increase has slowed down considerably… It is important to note that the external inputs for higher crop production, such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, are reliant on non-renewable fossil fuels… Their energy-intensive production and shipment around the world is, in the long run, not sustainable.  In addition, many of the high external input practices in the green revolution have been environmentally not very sound, and are in fact far from ‘ green’.  We require practical, low-cost and result-orientated long-term strategies that address the needs of farmers and the need for better and long-term care of the land.”  Peter Van Straaten, 2006.

Peter Van Straaten (University of Guelph) is credited as being at the forefront of soil remineralization and agrogeology to improve soil and crop quality.  A review of rock minerals as fertilizers was written by Eliot Coleman in 1975. Coleman concludes that selecting the right rock mineral for a particular soil, applying it at the appropriate rate, and utilizing particles that are small as possible will lead to improvements of agricultural crops.  There are now organizations such as Remineralize the Earth working on education and knowledge transfer and companies like Rock Dust Local (Vermont) who specialize in the sale of a wide variety of rock dusts.

In 2017, we conducted a soil amendment research study on carrots at Bluegrass Farm. The goal of our study was to determine if different soil amendments could improve the flavour and nutrition of carrots. We applied three different kinds of rock minerals to the soil on different plots, and then harvested and tested the carrots for Brix levels. We also invited our winter CSA members to participate in a blind taste test by providing them with all three carrot types in bags labelled A, B, and C.

Our three soil amendments were Spanish River Carbonatite (SRC), Wollastonite, and basalt. All three are naturally occurring rock deposits. They are considered broad spectrum multi-nutrient rock fertilizers since they contain over fifty different elements at trace levels.  Table 1 provides a detailed breakdown of the available nutrients found in the three different rock minerals.

Table 1. Percent content of selected elements in our multi-nutrient rock minerals.

Spanish River Carbonatite (%) Wollastonite (%) Basalt (%)
Phosphorus 0.3 0.1
Potassium 0.78 0.1 2
Magnesium 1.3 6 3
Calcium 20 16.5 5
Iron 4 2.2 7
Silicon 27 25

 

To assess nutritional value, we measured the Brix levels of juice from carrots grown in each plot. Brix is a measure of the amount of light that is refracted (bent) while passing through a fluid. High brix readings in plant juices are often used as a surrogate for greater nutrient density, as Brix is a sum of the sucrose, fructose, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, hormones, and other solids.

Carrots from our control group (no rock minerals applied) had a Brix level of 9. “A” carrots (Spanish River Carbonatite) had 9.5. “B” carrots (Wollastonite) had 9. “C” carrots (Basalt) were the highest at 11.

Table 2 illustrates our CSA member votes on their favourite tasting carrot.  While the results were mixed, indicating that taste is a subjective quality, overall our CSA members identified “C” carrots as having the best tasting or sweetest flavour, followed closely by “A”. Of the three rock minerals, basalt contains the highest levels of micronutrients and trace elements. This may have resulted in higher Brix levels, and may be reflected in the carrot taste testing.

Table 2. Survey results from CSA members with ranking of A, B and C carrots. (Some participants only ranked their first choice).

1st 2nd 3rd
A (SRC) 7 6 3
B (Wollastonite) 3 5 7
C (Basalt) 8 3 4

 

The photo below shows a taste test completed by one of our CSA members and his one year old son, Jason and Jacob Garlough.  As Jason put it: “Length of carrots were equal at start of experiment so the deliciousness factor is inversely related to their ending length below.” It appears that C is the clear winner in this highly rigorous taste trial!

Another CSA member, Anita, shared this photo from her son David, who took the carrots to his Grade 2/3 class to share the taste test.  These are the class’ tasting notes for carrot ‘B’, but note that their top pick was also ‘C’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, we feel that there is a need for more holistic soil science, where we consider the role of micronutrients not just on plant yield, but on plant nutrition, soil microorganism activity and human health.  For too long, there has been too much emphasis on nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for crop yield.  There is an urgent need to remineralize the land with micronutrients and trace elements that play critical roles in the agroecosystem.

We continue to lose quantity and quality of soils around the world through current agricultural practices.  As a result, studies have shown a reduction of elements and nutrients in our food by 14-37% (calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium and vitamins) (Davis et al., 2004).  Our goal for organic agriculture is to produce nutrient dense foods in an ecological manner that will sustain and improve human health.

Rock minerals are cost effective, slow release, and readily available.  In contrast to conventional chemical fertilizers, rock minerals offer a low risk of groundwater contamination and are compliant with the organic production regime.  Our initial experiment has shown enough promise that it is worth further investigation of additional rock dusts on carrots and other vegetable crops at Bluegrass Farm.  (This experiment focused solely on carrots; other crops have different nutritional requirements and may benefit differently from various rock minerals.) Our research was limited due to financial constraints, however, a detailed nutrient analysis of our soil amended carrots would allow us to better understand what nutrients are moving from the soil to create better tasting and more nutritious carrots.

Acknowledgements

This research would not have occurred without support from Achillea Endeavours, Ottawa, Ontario.  https://achilleaendeavours.wordpress.com/

Thanks to our CSA members for eating their veggies and conducting scientific trials at their dinner tables!

References

Coleman, Eliot.  1975.  The use of ground rock powders in agriculture: A survey of the literature on granites, feldspars, micas, and basalts.  Small Farm Research Association.  Harborside, Maine 04642

Davis, D.R. Epp, M.D., Riordan, H.D. 2004. Changes in USDA food composition data for 43 garden crops, 1950 to 1999. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 23(6):669-82.

Van Straaten, Peter.  2006.  Farming with rocks and minerals: challenges and opportunities.  Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. 78(4): 731-747

 

By: Bradley Wright, B.Sc., M.E.S., Bluegrass Farm

 


Feeling the Impacts

Posted on December 15, 2017

Guest Post by Abbey Gregus

When I started working at Bluegrass Farm back in September, we were finally starting to enjoy some of the warm, dry, sunny weather that we had been waiting for all summer long.  Days were spent going out to the fields and harvesting crops to be stored in the cold cellar for the winter CSA.  Unfortunately, as we progressed through the autumn harvest, impacts of a summer abundant with rain and very little sunlight became quite clear. The veggies just weren’t sizing up as hoped and expected.  Luckily, an increase in the number of seedlings and seeds planted initially is what saved us; the number of plants started has made up for lack of size, and we are moving along with our winter CSA!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jump forward to today, in mid-December, and trying to keep things going in extreme cold more typical of January and February.  The wood boiler that keeps the soil temperatures above zero in the winter months got fired up almost a month early this year, and we have been busy trying to make sure that the greenhouse walls are as insulated as possible.  On a daily basis, a great deal of time and energy is invested on things like row cover, soil heating, air heating, and making sure our veggies are being stored at the right temperature.

Feeling the impacts of a rainy summer, and now dealing with extreme cold temperatures so early on, its hard not to think about what’s “normal” for our weather, and what might be a result of climate change.

These are just some of the trials and tribulations of a farming lifestyle.  Last summer was a drought, this summer was rainy, and we have no way of knowing what next season will have in store. Scientists have been warnings us for years about climate change, but it seems as though the time has finally come that we are really starting to feel the impacts. In systems of organic agriculture, we are to a large degree, at the mercy of mother nature and unfortunately, dealing with these extreme weather patterns is something that is likely to get only harder, not easier.  Farmers out there trying to produce food in an ecological manner are not only suffering the adverse affects, they are also the ones taking part in the fight against climate change.

This brings me to the cumulative impacts we can all make at the consumer level. Every time we purchase food, we are making a decision on the kinds of agricultural systems we are supporting.  When you buy food from a local organic farm, you are not only supporting your community, you yourself are taking part in the fight against climate change. Local people farming ecologically, are the people we need to support for the health of our communities and our environment.  Supporting these hard working people in whatever way we can, is the least thing we can do!

I have learned so much while working here, and gotten to know some pretty amazing earth warriors. I’m sad to say that my time at Bluegrass Farm is coming to an end, but I can’t wait to come back and visit this amazing place, and watch the farm grow and develop in the coming years!

Thanks for reading 🙂

Abbey


Fall 2017 Farm Tours

Posted on September 20, 2017

Curious to see how we grow and store veggies through the winter? Join us on a fall Farm Tour for a peek in our greenhouses and a walk through the fields. Learn about our innovative heated greenhouse system that keeps greens growing all winter long, and supports our Winter CSA.

Tours are free, and will be held Sunday, September 24th at 2 pm, and Saturday, September 30th at 10:30 am. Our farm is about 75 minutes from downtown Ottawa.

To register, please email Leela@bluegrassfarm.ca with your preferred date and the number in your party. Directions will be sent to those who register.

We look forward to seeing you!


Hiring a full-time farm worker for Fall 2017

Posted on June 26, 2017

We are now hiring a farm worker for this fall. The contract is seasonal with the possibility to extend/renew in the new year. Please see below for details and how to apply.

Position: Organic Farm Worker
Type: full-time seasonal (Aug/Sept – Dec., see below)
Location: Jasper, near Smiths Falls/Merrickville/Kemptville/Perth, Ontario

Bluegrass Farm is a certified organic, mixed vegetable farm located in Jasper, Ontario (15 minutes from Merrickville or Smiths Falls; 75 min from downtown Ottawa). We are a small family farm, now in our seventh year of organic vegetable production, and our fourth year farming on this property.

Our goal is to increase the viability of local food as a year-round option in our region. We operate an innovative system of 5 heated greenhouses that use radiant floor heating to grow greens through the winter. Combined with extensive cold storage to store our field crops, this allows us to offer a unique Winter Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program. Last winter we supplied 157 CSA members with biweekly baskets of produce from October through March. We also deliver greens weekly to restaurant and retail customers in the fall and spring. In this way we aim to help fill the gap in local produce throughout the off-season.

Our approach to farming is informed by our backgrounds in environmental science and sustainability education. We are certified organic, and emphasize soil health and fertility as the foundation for growing healthy and delicious food. Our unique business model is driven by continuous research and learning; we are always experimenting with new crops, growing techniques and methods for season extension. Our farm’s innovation and leadership has been recognized by the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, as well as grants from the Ontario Local Food Fund and the Eastern Ontario Development Program.

This year we are growing over 4 acres of field crops that will go into our 2017-18 Winter CSA baskets. We also grow a wide variety of salad and other greens in our ¼ acre of greenhouse space, for our CSA and wholesale customers. We are aiming to offer a new Spring CSA program for 2018 and will be developing this through the fall and winter.

We are looking for a full-time worker this fall to help with the following tasks:

  • Greenhouse production: ongoing planting, weeding, irrigation, harvest and maintenance of greenhouse crops.
  • Field harvest: harvest, processing, storage and inventory of field crops for winter CSA.
  • CSA boxes and wholesale orders: wash and pack produce for weekly CSA boxes and wholesale orders; local delivery of boxes/orders.
  • Infrastructure construction and upgrades: projects may include upgrading our woodshed, building an outdoor seedling station and washing station, expanding our heating system to include our vegetable storage, installing an internet connection in our barn, etc.
  • Development of the Spring CSA program: this could include marketing, sales, crop planning and production.
  • We will do our best to match your tasks to your abilities and experience. If you have a specific skill or interest that can help on our farm, please let us know!

What we offer:

  • A small team with 2 co-owners and 2 experienced staff (and 2 wonderful farm kids!). You will work closely with all of us and have the chance to participate in farm planning and decision-making. A small team means everyone is given responsibility and ownership of certain tasks;
  • A great opportunity for someone wanting to learn more about operating a mixed vegetable/greenhouse/winter farm, as you will be exposed to all aspects of the business. We are happy to share our experience, both in terms of production and business management;
  • Full access to the farm house for lunches and breaks, as well as our extensive resource library;
  • Regular team meetings and one-on-one check-ins provide opportunities for questions, feedback and learning;
  • Please note there is no staff housing available at the farm. Applicants must have their own vehicle to get to and from work and make deliveries;
  • Salary will start at $12-13/hr depending on experience, plus vacation pay. This position is covered by WSIB.

What we’re looking for:

  • Ability to perform full days of physical labour outdoors in all weather conditions;
  • Vegetable production experience, preferably at a commercial scale (ie. On-farm). Construction or tractor experience are also assets;
  • Someone with their own vehicle who is willing to make weekly deliveries to Smiths Falls, Kemptville or Ottawa during work hours. We pay for your time and mileage expenses;
  • Willingness to take on a range of tasks, adaptable to changing circumstances, creativity and problem-solving skills;
  • Strong communication skills; comfortable working as part of a team and independently; able to represent our business professionally with customers and the public;
  • Commitment to local food systems and sustainable food production;
  • Funding towards this position requires us to hire someone 30 or under, who is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

We are looking for someone to start between August 21st and September 5th 2017. The contract will end on December 22nd, with the possibility of continuing in the new year or returning in the spring. Hours of work are Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 4:30 pm.

How to apply:

Please email your resume and cover letter to Leela Ramachandran at leela@bluegrassfarm.ca. Applications will be accepted until July 10 2017.

Thank you to all who apply, however we can only follow up with those selected for an interview. Applicants will be reviewed as they are received, with interviews booked the week of July 10.


Spring is in the Air, Seeds are in the Dirt

Posted on April 14, 2017

Bluegrass Farm was a fledgling idea the last time I had an opportunity to visit back in 2012. Back then I was amazed to see the dedication and passion Brad and Leela put in to pursuing something they love. I remain inspired when I see the full blown farm operation they have today.

As spring slowly makes it’s way here, the farm is abuzz with energy. The fields are being tilled ready for plants and warmer weather. The greenhouses are thriving full of greens, that make their way to plates across the Ottawa area. The newest addition to the farm is Greenhouse 5, which includes a heated portion. The heated portion provides a place to sprout plants for the fields, plus grow microgreens.

As an urbanite who spends her days on a computer, farm work has an amazing allure. I got to spend my day getting dirt under my nails in Greenhouse 5. Karen and I planted over 20 trays of green starters and microgreens! The variety amazes me. My yuppie life only sees the variety on my plate. I’d be hard pressed to name or identify either the seed or leaf of most of the plants in the greenhouse. Fenugreek was the most intriguing to me. The seeds have a wonderfully spicy aroma, and rich golden colour. The smell doesn’t translate to the flavor of the seed or the green. Making and planting the trays felt like childhood and time spent making mud pies. Layer the dirt, add the seeds, top with perlite – like white frosting! The day of work was a great way to spend the day, as I was rewarded with tangible outputs.

    

The day helping at the farm was a real treat! Not only did I get to help my friends, I can better appreciate the effort put into growing food and the work required for farming. Added bonus – the inspiration and knowledge to grow microgreens back in the urban jungle.

Guest blogger: Lana (https://enroutetoanywhere.wordpress.com/ travel adventures and book reviews)


A Virtual Farm Tour

Posted on October 24, 2016

farm-tourEvery spring and fall, we open our farm to CSA members and the public for farm tours. It’s a lot of work to organize and prepare for the tours, especially on weekends after a busy week. But we love meeting our members and showing them where their food comes from. It’s important to us for people to see and learn about what goes into small scale, sustainable agriculture in their region.

This fall we held three tours, with 35 participants in total. Thanks to CSA members from each tour who shared their photos with us*, we’re offering a little virtual tour here.

fullsizerender-4The highlight is the greenhouses, especially if it’s a cold rainy day. This is where the magic happens at our farm, and October is a pretty magical time to check them out. This fall our greenhouses are looking their best ever, for many reasons.

We now have two years of greenhouse production experience, planting in the fall and growing through the winter and spring. In this time we’ve learned a lot about planting schedules, crop varieties, pest control, and managing the growing climate. With a bigger team this fall, we’ve also got more labour to put into greenhouse maintenance: planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and cleaning up crops on a more regular basis.

 

sala-nova-gh-3We grow many different crops in the greenhouses, but most of the ones we keep through the winter are cut-and-come-again, meaning you can harvest the leaves and the plant will grow back. Having an established root system is essential for plants to survive through the winter. These crops include spinach, a diversity of mustard and asian greens, Sala Nova lettuce, kale, chard, bok choy, arugula and more.

October is peak production time for the greenhouses: the temperature is not too hot or cold, and there is still enough daylight for crops to grow quickly. As the days get shorter and colder, growth will slow down dramatically. By December most crops are either growing back slowly after cutting, or just staying alive. Even with the heat on, the greenhouses become almost like a giant refrigerator, storing banked greens for weekly harvest. By March, it will be warm and light enough for growth to pick up again, and we’ll plant new crops.

fullsizerender-8fullsizerender-5We’re also busy in the fields in October. We time our field plantings so that the veggies are ready as late as possible in the fall, minimizing their time in storage before going into your winter boxes. This gets tricky as fall weather is unpredictable, and a hard frost can damage crops that have taken all year to grow. It also means that around this time, everything is suddenly ready all at once!

As we scale up our production, getting the harvest out on time and finding a place to put it all have become new challenges. Our cold storage is filling up fast, even with new pallet crates we bought for vertical storage. We plan out our field harvest carefully, picking more sensitive crops first (like broccoli) and leaving hardier ones for last (carrots and parsnip are sweeter after a couple of frosts). But we don’t mind snacking on a few carrots while we work or visit!

farm-tour-baby

Thanks to everyone who made the trip out to see us. If you are interested but didn’t make it this fall, we’ll hold more tours in the spring, and look forward to seeing you then.

by Leela.

*Thanks to our CSA members Margaret and Kyle, Nicole, and Judy for sharing their photos!


A Recipe for Divorce.

Posted on September 26, 2016

GH 5 partsOK, I’m joking. We’re not even married, so how could we get a divorce? The title of this post was just the thought that popped into my head as Brad and I unloaded these used greenhouse parts from the back of a U-Haul truck at the end of June. It was a Saturday afternoon, close to 40 degrees, I was 6 months pregnant, and we were rushing to empty the truck before our 4-year old returned from an outing with his grandfather. Not the ideal way to spend a summer weekend, but this is what we signed up for… right?

One might think (as I did) that building, heating and growing in 4 greenhouses through the winter would be enough, at least to keep us busy for our first few years at this farm. But Brad is a big-picture thinker, always looking ahead to the next goal. It’s hard work bringing him back to the details of the present moment day after day, but without his vision we would never have gotten to this point.

dsc_0028We decided to build a fifth greenhouse after 3 springs of sub-par seedlings. We turn off the soil heat in our existing greenhouses at the beginning of March. By then, lengthening daylight hours and solar gains in the greenhouses can support rapid growth of our cold-hardy greens. But growing new seedlings, to transplant into greenhouses or fields throughout the spring, is a different matter. These seeds are grown in trays, require higher constant soil temperatures for germination, and warmer air temps for the new plants to grow. Many vegetable farms heat only their seed-starting greenhouse, and only in March and April for just this reason. We were starting our seedlings in unheated greenhouses, where they were suffering, and taking up valuable spring salad production space. It felt like some transplanted crops never caught up from their rough start.

dsc_0040Enter Brad’s never-ending Kijiji search, which soon turned up a good deal on a used greenhouse near Guelph. We dropped Brad off at the Via Rail station in Smiths Falls at 6 am one morning, and he arrived back at 10 pm with a U-Haul full of greenhouse components. Major discussion was required before unloading the next day: how would we heat this new greenhouse? How close could we put it to the others without blocking the sun? How would we get power and water to the new building? What other future land uses did we need to consider in siting it? What were we thinking trying to farm anyways? I felt like both my decision-making AND unloading skills would have been greatly enhanced by a cold beer on such a hot day, but in my second trimester it was not to be.

Eventually, we figured out where to put it. We also decided that one-third of the structure will be walled off and heated for seed-starting in the spring, while the other two-thirds will be left unheated, allowing for additional greens production in the spring and fall. The heated section will use a water-to-air heat exchanger, transferring energy from our wood boiler to underground hot water lines to the indoor air.

dsc_0038The good news was that once unloaded, Greenhouse #5 has gone up much more quickly and smoothly than the first four. Turns out we’ve learned a lot about how to excavate and square the foundation, hire professional rock drillers, cement the ground posts into holes and assemble the arches. Once our fall staff showed up, our awesome team got that puppy up in no time. We’re almost ready to cover it with plastic and set up the seedling tables inside.

Nearing the end of my third trimester, I’ve stepped back from construction jobs on the farm, which has also greatly reduced the risk of divorce. But I’m pretty sure this baby will be helping to seed a whole lot of little green babies in our new greenhouse this spring.

by Leela.


Every Day We Do One Thing Better Than Last Year.

Posted on July 12, 2016

IMG_20160416_132907This has been my motto over the past year. After starting four farms from scratch in four years, and moving seven times in the last ten, it has been really satisfying to just. stay. put. We are finally getting past the seemingly insurmountable start-up hurdles, and into a new stage of finding better and (sometimes) easier ways to do things.

Some of our improvements have been through infrastructure. After our first winter when our water line froze, we drilled a second well at the barn. An insulated line and a heated wash station keep water running all winter, and on mild days we can even irrigate the greenhouses. Much better than hauling dirty veggies to the house to wash them in our mudroom, and hauling water from the house to water greenhouses by hand! The second well is also keeping our crops alive during this summer’s drought… more on that later.

root washerWe also invested in a mechanized root vegetable washer. This beauty spins veggies in a large drum while high-pressure sprinklers clean them. It helped us to increased our winter CSA from 75 members in 2014 to 125 in 2015.

Many other improvements are in our systems and processes. Sometimes you just have to do things poorly for awhile before a better way appears, through trial and error or the occasional lightbulb moment. Whether it’s a more efficient way to pack CSA boxes, automating spreadsheets for record-keeping, or figuring out how to get the seeder to space the seeds properly, we’re making slow but steady progress on many fronts.

loading wood

 

Of course, we’ve also made our share of new mistakes. In some cases we didn’t realize how well we’d (accidentally) done something our first year until we did it differently the second year, and suffered the consequences. Some crops were planted too early this time around, others too late. A late fall made us less careful about protecting greenhouse crops, until a sudden frost killed many of them. And, as we learned time and time again, even an insulated water line will freeze if you forget to turn your heaters on when it goes to -20. (Doh!) But it’s all part of the learning process.

As we get a handle on our core operations, we’re continuously looking for ways to grow the business. As time and resources allow, we’re increasing our staff, investing in better equipment, and adding new products and customers. This spring we expanded our wholesale salad production, selling to new restaurants and food stores as well as to organic food box delivery programs. Brad mustered his confidence and knocked on a lot of restaurant doors with samples in hand. We had to hire a part-time delivery person and rent a van twice a week, but we exceeded our spring sales target and saw the potential to scale up even more.

broccoli seedlingsWe get so caught up in the next challenges and goals that it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. This month, we mark our two-year anniversary of living at this farm. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, there were no greenhouses, no cold storage, no heating system, no winter CSA members; no idea whether this would actually work.

Looking back helps to inspire me when I feel overwhelmed by the next step: having our second baby in October, with our son starting kindergarten, the winter CSA ramping up, the fields full of crops to harvest and greenhouse production in full swing. (Wait… whose idea was this again???) But then I think about everything that has happened here so far, and all the amazing support and help we’ve had and continue to receive. Like 15 volunteers showing up on a hot Saturday in June to hand-weed onions, plant seeds and shovel gravel in 30+ heat. Those are true friends, and we are eternally grateful for them.

IMG_20160503_210934If we were able to get this far in two years, and learn so much along the way, imagine what can happen in the next two years. Starting from such chaos has created a million opportunities to do things better, and I’m confident that our team will keep finding new ways to grow, in all senses of the word.

by Leela.