February is coming!

February is coming, and with it a whole lot of activity on a whole lot of different levels!

At the national level, word is that there is a new farm bill that is likely to make it’s way through congress within the next couple of weeks. As a vegetable farmer, my sense is that there is very little that will affect me directly. As an Iowan, an environmentalist, a member of the Iowa Farmers Union, and a human – there are quite a few things that will affect me. Overall I’m glad to see that the bill is moving forward and will continue to support both people who need to eat (through SNAP) as well as people who produce the food.

At the state level, the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference was last week. It was my first PFI conference, even though I’ve been to enough events over the past year that I feel like I know everyone (almost!) who was there. Ok- so that’s a stretch. But they’re all such great people that if you don’t know someone, you just start a conversation with them and soon that’s taken care of. Highlights included Susan Jutz (my mentor) receiving the Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award (PDF), Andy Dunham (another mentor) talking about Weathering the Weather, and Laura Krouse (another mentor) talking about growing potatoes. There was also a “short course” the two half-days before the conference on holistic management – focusing on how people – farmers especially – need to look beyond only the business plan to find the things that they really want out of life and to make sure that short-term decisions are aligned with that. It reminded me very much of my research work in Sweden – backcasting from desired futures, creativity within constraints, and so on –  and the masters programs (strategic leadership – MSLS and sustainable product innovation – MSPI) that are currently accepting applications to join them in the fall of this year!

At the local (farm) level – I’m just finishing up what may be the most complicated taxes ever… the combination of having been in Sweden last January, starting a consulting business to continue some academic work independently, starting a farm, and some short-term capital gains…. well, it got interesting! Between that and the PFI conference, not a lot of farm work has been done over the past week. And tomorrow I’ll head to Florida for a few days – while I’m currently cash-poor, I’m points rich thanks to some strategic use of credit cards and several years of flying to/from Sweden! Hopefully I’m going far enough south to see the 70’s. I’d still rather be going fishing this summer, but the life of a vegetable farmer doesn’t allow for summer vacations, at least not at this stage of the game.

For now, I think you should contemplate kale – and the four dishes suggested over at DM Juice. If it gets you thinking about summer veggies like I hope it does – consider joining our CSA this summer to get your weekly box of fresh produce!

One of the kale pictures from dmjuice:
The Winterset Salad Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, at at The Cafe in Ames.

Last full week of January

Just a few minutes ago I was excited to write an update – talking about how this week, it was time to move on to things now that the seed order is finished. Then I realized that I wrote that *last* week! It may well be a case of spring fever – yesterday it reached 50 degrees here. And to be fair, I did get a few other things… well, not done, but advanced. And while I’m claiming that the seed order is “done” – I also have in mind a need to review it sometime sooner than later and to extend it for fall crops. I’m fully expecting to do a “fall share” that runs during October and November. And generally that is not important right now – except that it kind of is for things like potatoes, onions, brussels sprouts, etc. Ok, so they’re not important RIGHT NOW. But now is sort of the down time to be thinking about them, priority to the busy time that will start in mid-March when we start seeding crops. Anyway – I write this to remind myself that I need to keep busy.

With those things in mind – the week *will* be busy, though with many off-farm activities. Meeting with insurance agents, a membership committee meeting with the Iowa Farmers Union, meeting with people about the CSA (i.e. marketing), and then the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference.

Shifting gears

The seed orders are in, and now it’s time to move on to a couple of other things that are critical to get lined up before the busy spring season arrives.

The things now at the time of my priority list:

  1. Marketing materials. It’s time to get word out about New Family Farm and all of the fantastic produce that will be available from us this year. The website and facebook are great tools for this, but we also need to get printed materials out to people. Also, we’re now listed on the LocalHarvest.org site – you’re welcome to check out our listing there.
  2. Space for germinating plants this spring. Many of the vegetables we grow will be started in climate-controlled environments. With an eye to energy savings, this means I need to get a greenhouse up in the next two months. This is entirely possible, but not without challenges!
  3. Equipment prep. One of my fall purchases was an Allis-Chalmers ‘G’ tractor (picture below). It was made in the 1950’s. I bought it because it’s a light-weight (minimizing soil compaction) and has the engine in the rear and a belly-mount cultivator (enabling me to see where I’m going and not run over crops). It currently does not have brakes, and the cultivator is not set up for the bed system that I’ll be using. (The bed system is basically using 5-foot wide “beds”, having between 1 and 5 rows in each bed, depending upon the crop. This differs from a row system, where every row would be the same width, say 30 inches.)

There are still plenty of other things for me to be thinking about: irrigation, delivery systems and produce handling, organic certification, and the deer fence. But I think ‘ll set those aside for right now, and focus on a few others.


2014 is the International Year of Family Farming

I was reminded by the National Farmers Union blog that 2014 is the International Year of Family Farming, designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. I post it here because I think it is a neat opportunity to say a couple of things.

First, the connection family farmers in the US have with family farmers around the world is complex and historic. Many of the farmers in Iowa today have (family) roots in Europe. In some ways, family farmers compete on a global market. Yet, because family farms tend to be smaller operations focusing on producing food for their communities, there really is – and can be moreso – a sense of support and cooperation and mutual thriving when family farms succeed.

Second, I joined the Iowa Farmers Union last fall as an indication of my support for a long-standing organization (since 1915 in Iowa!) that supports education, cooperation, and legislation that sincere support sustainable production, safe food, a clean environment and healthy communities. Whether or not you are a farmer, if you are interested in these issues I hope you will take a few moments to learn more about the Farmers Union.

Third, what better way to celebrate 2014 being the International Year of the Family Farm than by committing to support a local family farm? Of course we here at NFF would love for that to be us through our CSAIYFF

Anticipating Abundance

It’s rather chilly today. Currently 1 degree. Fahrenheit. Not like 1 degree C – for my Swedish friends, which would be just above freezing. No, we are quite far below freezing here today. So I decided I needed to spend a little time reflecting on how hot things were last summer. For example, here’s the delivery from July 1st. It’s a great example of the early season: lots of greens and a few earlier roots – turnips, beets, radishes – and my personal favorite: kohlrabi.


Then there’s the fall delivery – this one’s from October, and was exceptionally bountiful. The farms that I worked with (Wild Woods Farm and ZJ Farm) did an every-other-week delivery in the fall, so the picture below is 2 weeks’ worth.  Carrots, squash, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, kale, chard, eggplant, garlic, broccoli, turnips, rutabaga, radish, and even – gasp! – a watermelon!

(photo credit to Kate Edwards)

Now that I’m sufficiently inspired (not really warmed up as I’d hoped, but at least inspired!), I can go back to the seeding plan in anticipation of the abundance of the growing season.


Food Cost vs. Food Value

This image:


and the statement:

A few weeks ago, my kids and I saw a billboard for a famous fast-food restaurant boasting $5 meals. While five dollars sounds like a reasonable amount to spend, dinner would be over $20 for a family of four. That’s a lot of money to spend on a “cheap” meal! I usually spend $8-10 on a nice home-cooked meal. With $20, I can go all-out!

from http://deliciouslyorganic.net/much-real-food-really-cost/, got me thinking this morning. I’m not sure they’re really comparing apples-to-apples (doritos??), but it definitely is food for thought. Ha. 🙂

I also like that it’s not only about cost – the article also discusses nutrients and time – arguing that in all three cases, “real food” can often win out over “fast food”. I think I like the article because it reminds me of the research I was doing in product development in Sweden, which focused on developing products with consideration of their full life cycle costs (both monetarily for the manufacturer, but also for customers during use of the product and for disposing of the product at the end of its useful life). While in much of the manufacturing world, the race is to the bottom: cost reduction. We (my friends at BTH!) were a step ahead of that, emphasizing cost reduction while acknowledging that any value equation considers both costs as well as benefits. This article is stepping into the same conversation regarding food: it’s not only about producing cheap calories! It’s also about:

  • nutrition, and the long-term implications for our health
  • time, and whether we would rather spend time sitting/standing in line at Mickey-D’s, or sharing time with family/friends in our kitchen
  • food source, and whether we would rather be supporting big industry or local farmer
  • food production methods, and whether we would rather support producers that use practices that improve or degrade soil and water
  • taste!
  • safety, and whether the food that we eat is handled and prepared in safe ways

…and probably a host of others that are not on the top of my mind at this particular moment. I wrote a few things about “share value” – actually with an emphasis on comparing costs of a CSA share with costs of purchasing food at a retailer. I trust that you will keep in mind that value is more about reduction of costs – it also needs to include all of the benefits.