Thursday, June 21, 2012

Spring Wrapped Up, On to Summer!

Wow!  so much has happen since my last post, its hard to know where to start.  We we are officially done with Spring!  And by Spring I mean the season in which I work 12 hour days to get all the beds prepped and planted and begin to enjoy our first delicious harvests of Detroit produce.  It was a crazy one.  We unfortunately had some personnel turn over right in the middle of the peak field work period (end of May), when we had 10 90 foot beds to work up and get planted.  But thanks to friends and family who were able to put in a little extra Finn-care time I was able to bust my butt and get it all done.  Of course now that all the real work is over I have more then enough help, as Joan has returned from South America (good stories, you should ask her about it) to join the Rising Pheasant Farms team again and we have brought on Russell for some additional assistance.  So the farm is really looking great right now and I'm nervous about running out of things for us all to do (probably won't happen but now I don't feel bad about taking Monday's off...well from field work at least).

Snapshot of the farm harvest currently: scallions, garlic scapes, broccoli, cabbage (we grew them mini, and folks seem to really like that), collards, red russian kale and curly kale, swiss chard, spinach, and peas.  A few of these spring vegetables are on their way out (we'll have more head lettuce, spinach and peas in the fall!), but just in time for our favorite summer vegetable to begin to produce.

We also planted a bunch of perennials which we will not be able to harvest at all this year.  Raspberries, blackberries, asparagus, and strawberries all went in and I can't wait till next year when I'm harvesting all that goodness.  With the complete devastation of Michigan fruiting crops it has reaffirmed my desire to grow my own berries (gotta use that heat-island effect for something positive).  Plus with out the recent crops losses, it has generally been difficult to come across organic/no spray berries at Eastern Market or even near by upick.  I used to just ignore that fact but with a small child and the unfortunate knowledge (some times a curse) that berries absorb more pesticides and herbcides then really any other type of produce, I just can't bring myself to purchase/consume conventional berries.  And I LOVE them so much...its really aweful.  But next year we will have more strawberries, raspberries and blackberries then we'll know what to do with!!  It will be interesting to see if any of them make it to market.

Infrastructure wise, we're still plugging a way on the fence (and making plans for fencing in the side yard) and we've finally finished demo on the farmhouse!  This past weekend we actually put something IN the house (besides blood, sweat and tears).  My neighbor Mike, who is a carpenter, assisted us in building and placing a 16 foot beam down the center of the house so we could remove a support wall and expand the kitchen.  It looks awesome and only took one days work (after a year of demo, it is unbelieveable that any thing could be accomplished in a day).  The next project is replacing the stairs in the center of the house (taken out when it was converted to a 2 flat).

We've also started our weekly farm stand.  We've put up our stand 3 times now and seen some decent neighborhood traffic, including meeting at least 5 new neighbors.  And since that's really the whole point of the stand, besides increasing access to fresh produce, I'd say we're doing pretty well.  The farm stand will probably never be a big money maker (hard to beat Eastern Market) but I think it will serve very well as a neighborhood gathering spot and mini food hub.

Well I'm sure I'm forgetting a whole bunch of exciting updates, but its time to get out to the field so I'll leave you with some photos from the spring!

Tilling up the new land back in April

Cabbage back in April.  Now we've got mini cabbages at market.

Finn enjoying an entire bag of sunshoots :)

A little help from the neighbors at our first farm stand!

Our biggest load yet...we made it to the 3rd level!

View of the farm (beginning of June) taken by Randall of Eastern Market Corp.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Rotobike!

Tilling began today on the new land!

and when we say bike power we mean bike power...check out Jack picking up the tiller from Earthworks (a convenient time to run the dog as well)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Here we go!!

Sorry folks, this post has been a long time coming...didn't mean to leave you with such a downer post for so long (though it had a happy ending, right?).

So lots going on here on the farm.  Darryl and I have been holding it down at Eastern Market.  I hope you all have gotten a chance to come and visit (and maybe picked up a bag of sunshoots!).  We are now in Shed 2 next to Brother Nature Produce for the rest of the year, so you can't miss us.  Last week was our first week out there and despite it being a little cold, it was a pretty good market.  Darryl seems to be really enjoying the market and I really enjoy having the help!  Sales are definitely up over last year, though I don't have an exact percentage, so we're off to a good start!

On the home front, Jack and I have been diligently working away on the fence for the farm.  As you can see from the photo we have completed the eastern side and actually now the northern (Frederick) side is nearly
complete (this photo is a couple weeks old).  We're building it out of the 100 year old lath we've been removing from the farmhouse as we demo.  At this point the lath is multi-colored, which looks really sweet, but I think unfortunately it will all go grey eventually.  I'm not a big fan of fences in theory but the reality is this will hopefully help define what it is we're doing out there for our neighbors.  It shows that its cared for, well maintained, that it isn't a community garden in the sense that folks are welcome to just take whatever, and that we are committed to that space.  Plus its not exactly a fortress razor wire...I knew we forgot something :)
Just to prove that I'm really dedicated to this fence I ceremoniously smashed my thumb with the very first nail and then continued to hammer my blood into the fence (literally, I was getting blood all over the nails).  It seemed very poetic.

Beyond my minor wounds, the fence is coming along really well.  Its a slow process but I feel like that is to our benefit.  Detroiters (and most people) don't do well with sudden change.  Because the fence building is time-intensive our neighbors see us out there nearly every day adding a little more.  It makes the process more on a human-scale.  Plus Finn has been out there with us most of the time and people walking by like to stop and say hi to the cute baby and it really facilitates neighborliness.  We're still the new kids on the block, and since many neighbors have lived here most of their lives we're going to have that title for a while, but that makes it all that much more important for us to be seen and to be seen slowly improving our little bit of the neighborhood.  We're building trust as we build our fence, dismantling the "other" and being seen as just people. Well at least that's what I hope. :)

I've also be busy growing our transplants for this season.  Currently we've got onions, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, collards, lettuce, kale, sweet peppers, and some flowers up and growing.  I learned a very important lesson about not cutting corners with transplants.  Growing supplies are not easily available in the city (yet! Detroit Farm and Garden is opening this Spring!!) so I usually borrow a car and drive all the way to Troy to get some of our transplanting supplies.  Unfortunately I forgot to pick up perlite when I was there and I attempted the the first transplants (the onions, leeks and scallions) without it.  Big mistake!  Perlite, for those who are unfamiliar, is  "an amorphous volcanic glass that has a relatively high water content, typically formed by the hydration of obsidian. It occurs naturally and has the unusual property of greatly expanding when heated sufficiently. It is an industrial mineral and a commercial product useful for its light weight after processing. When used as an amendment it has high permeability / low water retention and helps prevent soil compaction."  Thank you Wikipedia.  Its the little white balls you see in potting soil.  So basically without the perlite the soil in the transplant trays is compacted and doesn't drain well which results in roots rotting and plants dying. :(  Thankfully I was able to get some perlite off Patrick at Earthworks and most of our transplants are doing just fine.  Actually the cabbages are ready to be hardened off (the picture of "Red Express and "Farao" is our cabbages but a couple weeks ago) and if it wasn't so dang cold and windy they'd be outside right now.  It seems cruel to subject them to this kind of weather after living in the warm cozy attic all their lives.  But the day will come when we got to kick them out of the nest, give them a few bucks, wish them luck and send them on their way....we'll try again next week. :)

Out in the field the garlic is up, peas and beets are planted and hopefully we'll be planting spinach, onions, carrots and our cabbages next week. 

We are tittering on the brink of the busy season and all the excitement, anxiousness, and anticipation is beginning to unfold. I think it is going to be an amazing season. We're better established with our land (though it would really be nice to actually own all of it...if you have contacts to the City of Detroit that could help us, please let us know!!), feeling really good about having Darryl on board, and just feeling like its all coming together, slowly but surely.  I have been so fortunate to be given the chance to do what I love in a city I love (most of the time) and to work along side such amazing farmers, activists and neighbors.  

Thank you all for your support! 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Market from Hell! yes I have a flare for the dramatic...

Bicycle farming in the city is a romantic notion.  We get to feel all warm and fuzzy about our low-carbon business, while getting exercise, interacting with our neighbors, and saving a bunch of money.  What you don't hear often (because I have a lot of pride and try not to complain too much) is that it's a lot of hard work and sometimes I just think we're totally crazy.

Saturday's market was one of those days.  We experienced the unfortunate timing of a couple inches of snow over night leaving a freshly laid blanket on all the streets when i left the house at 7am.  Detroit is notoriously bad at clearing streets and since it had just fallen and it was early on a Saturday, very few cars had come through to pack it down for me.  Needless to say the bike ride to market involved some walking while pushing my bike and trailer through the snow (imagine your grandpa's story about walking up hill through the snow both ways when he was young, except without the hills...God bless this flat land!).  And what is usually a 15 minute ride, turned into at least a half hour of walking and cautious riding (and a lot of cussing).

But I made it and was excited to start the market day because it was going to be Darryl's first time at Eastern Market with Rising Pheasant Farms.  Darryl, much to his credit, was on time despite the snow and very cold weather.  With the table set, we started taking out our beloved shoots to proudly display our hard work, when we noticed that a few of the bags seemed to have frost damage.  Sunshoots are very cold sensitive and will turn to mush if frozen (basically all the plant cells explode when they freeze!).  We had kept the shoots in the fridge in the farmhouse over night and I was worried that it would be too cold because the house isn't heated but i didn't follow my gut and now at least 1/5th of the shoots we brought were damaged.  So Darryl and I debated whether we should still sell them (at a discount) or just set them aside, which is tricky because we didn't have that many shoots to begin with and most of the damaged bags were at least 80% good still, but you don't want to sell low quality produce and have that reflect on your farm standards.  Ahhhh!

Alas, we did sell some of the damaged bags, until a not-to-be-named friend of ours accused us of  trying to sell him "a bag of mush" and we felt a bit ashamed and decided to pack up.  Oh and I forgot to mention that i had Finn with me (thankfully not on the "ride" to market) and we quickly discovered that it is a whole new ball game this year with the little guy.  No longer is he a calm passive observer happy to hangout in a backpack while Mama works.  No, this guy now has a mind of his own and was letting me and the rest of Shed 3 know it.  Finn proceeded to cry for much of the rest of market while we tried to pack up and get out of the shed (which is made difficult now that we're in this center stall instead of a normal stall...we have to weave through all the people with the bikes and trailers).

Ok we're on our way.  I'm pulling Finn, who is still crying (probably hungry and a little cold and just all around unpleased) and Darryl has the long trailer.  We head out and I'm going at a pretty good pace, motivated by my crying baby and a strong desire to be done for the day, and soon realize I've totally lost Darryl.  At that very moment I get a call from him saying he's had to stop because the hitch has come loose and it has caused one of his spokes on his back wheel to break.  Damn! so I bike back to where he's at and conveniently the size allen wrench he needs is being used to hold Finn's trailer to my bike.  We get Darryl hitch tightened (Finn is screaming his head off) and I take off as fast as I can.  I finally pull into the driveway, grab Finn and head inside to warm up, get some food and try to de-stress a bit.

"Well it can only get better from here" says Darryl when he arrives back at the house.  I sure hope he's right and I definitely appreciate his good that moment I was ready to throw in the towel.

So you might be it really worth it? And despite days like that (which are rare) I would answer with a resounding "Yes!".  As Jack likes to so often remind me, "No one said this was going to be easy". Sustainability and living a "green" life are so often romanticized, but when it comes down to it, its just a lot of hard work.  Prioritizing what is easy and convenient is what got people into this mess in the first place, the alternative will always be harder and less convenient.  Living a sustainable life is about prioritizing environmental, social and economic justice and no one said that was easy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Crop Plans for 2012 and a New First Mate!

It's still winter, right?  Where I'm from it snows and is cold during winter, so this soggy 40 degree weather has been really throwing me off.  Though as a cyclist I have to admit that this unexpectedly warm January has aided in the ease of transport for me and my family.  So I guess I can't complain too loudly, but this constant nagging feeling, "this isn't right", won't go away.

Despite (or maybe because of) the warm weather we've been really gearing up (pun intended) for the 2012 growing season!  There has been a whole grocery list of items to attend to and I'd say we're really shaping up and are excited about easing back into things.

Once the holiday craziness had past, I got to work on our crop plan.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I've decided to prioritize diversity over quantity at market, and start up a neighborhood farm stand.  With this in mind and the results of our neighborhood (what do you want to eat?) survey in hand I embarked on the adventure that is crop planning.  I'm not sure if you've ever done much crop planning but it can basically be as complicated or simple as you want.  We definitely try to incorporate as much crop rotation (planting crops based on a rotation of crop families and trying to avoid planting the same family in the same location each year) into our plan as possible.  Rotating your crops really helps cut down disease and insect pressure, though I have to admit that when you're only growing on 1/5th of an acre I find it hard to believe that the pests can't skip over a couple beds to where their favorite crops are now planted.  Some insects are of course less mobile then others and certainly soil diseases are cut down dramatically.  but hey, you do what you can.

We will be growing 41 different varieties of annual crops, in addition to planting everbearing raspberries, 2 varieties of strawberries, black berries and 2 varieties of asparagus (yeah perennials!!!).  wow, i might be in over my head :)  so we'll see how things go.  Its been a little while since I grew this many different crops and varieties so I have to admit I'm a little nervous.  We're making the leap into perennial crops because we FINALLY own 1 of our farm lots and will be tilling it up this year.  Now if  the city could just get its act together we might own all 3 by the 2013 season (who knows, miracles do happen). We will also be growing all the transplants and I have given the grow room a bit of a makeover (cleared out all our personal storage items, put down a new floor covering, and added shelves and more lights...its really going to glow in there!) and now have space for transplant production.

As a matter of fact, I did the very first sunflower shoot planting for the year yesterday and we are oh so excited to return to Eastern Market next Saturday, February 4th.  We'll be in a center stall in Shed 3, so please come check us out!  We'll of course have sunflower shoots and possibly garlic and dried tomatoes!

Last but certainly not least, I'm happy to announce that we have a new member of the Rising Pheasant Farms team.  Darryl Howard, a graduate of the Earthworks Agricultural Training (EAT) Program and avid composter, will be coming on board as our Assistant Farm Manager.  Darryl has been involved at Earthworks since Brother Rick ran the show, but most recently spent the past two years participating in the EAT program as a candidate and a mentor.  He has also played an active role in the Capuchin Soup Kitchen Community Bike Shop and, I'm told, is a great bike mechanic. Darryl will be my "first mate" if you will, for all sunflower shoot and field production, as well as at the market.  We are very excited to have his skill, incite, and warm smile!  Welcome Darryl!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter Break & 2012 Plans! (Written Nov 2011)

Despite the unusually warm weather (its going to be 69 F today!) the 2011 season is coming to a close. we have just 3 more Saturdays at Eastern Market before a much anticipated (and deserved, i think) break.

We finished clearing the Frederick lots today and are awaiting our leaves.  If you have leaves or an any connections to landscapers with leave please contact us!  We finished up the season with leeks and scallions in addition to our sunshoots but now the sunshoots are the lone product on our table.  It does make for a much less chaotic Saturday morning but it is always a little sad (but also quite satisfying) to pull out the remaining plants, put away the field tools and say goodbye for the winter.  We do actually have spinach and lettuce still in the field but i'm doubtful they will make it to market.  We definitely got out lettuce in late.  Mostly due to a (or many) persistent mouse who continually removed the tops off my lettuce transplants and cause me to replant them twice.  the spinach is producing but i still have very inconsistent results with the 6-row seeder and there just really isn't enough to take.  so perhaps i'll just see if folks in the neighborhood would be interested when its ready.

though the 2011 season isn't quite finished, i'm already onto plans for 2012.  i've had a continual debate about my crop plan strategy since we started in 2009.  i've found it very frustrating to spend all my time growing vegetables and then have to go to market and buy vegetable.  i'd start with good intentions to have a separate family bed but with everything going on, it would soon become a pretty low priority and turn to a weedy mess.  in addition to this situation weighting on my mind, we learned a LOT about selling at market this year in regards to what sells and what doesn't and how much we can realistically move at market.  we discovered that for some items, mainly the sunshoots, we can sell a LOT more then we thought (or ever did at the Grown in Detroit table), but for most of the field items we really don't sell that much and that it would be preferable to have a diversity of crops as apposed to a large quantity of a few crops.

so for 2012 we are doing a 180 on the crop plan.  since i realized that the field crops are a small proportion of our total income (compared to the sunshoots) i feel less pressure to plant only crops that return the highest price per square ft (salad greens are an example of a very high price per square ft as compared to winter squash which takes up a lot of space and doesn't yield a very high price at market).  Next season our prioritize will be the following:

1. Grow enough food for our family to eat and preserve
2. Grow a diversity of crops to sell at Eastern Market from February through November
3. Grow a diversity of crops to sell at a weekly produce stand at our house, thus making it easier for our neighbors to pick up fresh produce

The first priority will require some research into urban homesteading models and increasing our preservation efforts.  We should be able to use the farmhouse for food storage next winter (i'm still hoping we might be LIVING in the farmhouse next winter but who knows), which will relieve my current tiny kitchen.

The second priority should be simple enough.  We'll already be growing a diversity of crops for our family and we'll just grow a large quantity of each item to take to market.  Hopefully we will therefore a more interesting and attractive table with great diversity throughout the growing season.

The third priority is not new in theory but one that I've been rolling around in my head for years now.  I've always wanted to do a neighborhood-based CSA (community supported agriculture) model here on the Eastside but I feel a small farm stand will be a good starting point.  It will hopefully serve as a way to reach out and meet neighbors and build relationships (and sell some produce).  Perhaps in the next couple years we can build enough support (and skill) to try out a CSA, but for now I think the farm stand will do.

We've got a lot of work to do, so I better rest up now.

See you in February!