Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter Days On The Farm - Part II

I always look forward to our annual local farming conference because TOFGA's TCOOPS conference always feels like old home week to me because I've known some of the wonderful folks I see there since TOFGA was TOGA, before I ever grew food commercially. They've seen me go from retail organic garden center manager, to shop owner, through organic landscape maintenance and now on to farm owner/manager/farmer - or, agriculturist. (Sometimes I still feel a little funny calling myself "a farmer" in part I guess because I didn't have to earn those stripes growing up in that world as a kid, I don't live out in the boonies on a regular "farm", and I still love the part of me that grew up just outside of Chicago that still embraces her love for a taste of the city life - and I often indulge in it so I feel a bit more citified than farmer sometimes. But I guess by pure definition of the word - I are one. My CSA family calls me Farmer Marie.)

At TOFGA, I usually lend a hand and volunteer my time as much as I can while still attending as many of the lectures as we are able to as volunteers. I have a history in public speaking, so the last few years I've found myself introducing and getting to meet many of the lectures' speakers, and this year - helping in the kitchen with the wonderful chef Amanda Love, The Barefoot Cook. What a great lady and of course, remarkable chef! Once we all finally figured out how to operate the commercial dishwasher - things went a lot better on KP duty. :)

We watched and listened as the creator/producer of FRESH! seemed almost in awe of her audience - a room full of generations of farmers. She was quite humbled by the energy I think as she went through her experiences in making the film. I was in and out of the kitchen, filling water and clearing tables so I didn't get to hear in detail all of her presentation, but I could feel she was clearly moved by the experience. Maybe little does she know, we so appreciate her, and others like her, who have the technical means and skill to go out there and tell the story of local farming and food. It's certainly a story we think is worth telling. The honor was ours as well.

And as that weekend of learning also comes to another close, it is time to head back to our farms to begin to apply all that we have gleaned in our CEU type classes. Continuing Education for farmers. You never can really learn it all, can you? Nature changes and throws curve balls at you each season, caves in the top of your greenhouse with ice and snow, freezes 90% of your crops with 100+ hours of subfreezing weather every 1 in 15 years, and don't get me started on the legislation that gets passed freeing up monster GMO plants to roam free in our environment causing havoc on small farmers across the world......we'll keep the energy positive. :)

New techniques come along to help enhance those we already use and to improve our growing, hopefully increasing our yields and expanding our options. The stories and experiences of our fellow farmers are always priceless and often save us countless hours of painstaking mistakes or just help us take shorter routes to successes.

All in all - I guess the life of this small urban farmer in the winter is much like many other avid gardeners. I just get to apply it each day when I walk out the back door to work at my favorite full time job here at Eden's. We cover up the rows as best we can - hunker down as Ol' Man Winter blows in colder than normal temps, and take to our repaired greenhouses where tiny seedlings are just waiting for the soil to warm up and welcome them into its care.

The Ground Hog and Solomon says Spring is coming early this year!

He's ready for it, are you?


Eat Your Food - Naturally!

Winter Days On The Farm - Part I

So what does Life on the Farm bring to this small farmer in the winter?

Well, several of the same things that it brings to most avid gardeners, too I suppose. While I wish for warmer days, I read farming books, peruse seed catalogs; dog-earing the page corners, highlighting "ooh that one's cool/pretty/neat/looks yummy" items. I also go over the prior year's successes and failures - hoping my notes have not been rained on or muddied beyond legibility.

And I sort seeds, look through the many pictures taken throughout the year, hopefully sorting and naming them for future use, I start to sketch out the plan for the next season, adding to my accumulating drawings of the garden plot so as to keep track of what was planted each year as I go along.

I also checked out the newest fast food burger place in Dallas! No, no, it's OK! It's the grass-fed burger place called Elevation Burger.
I invite you to indulge in a guilt-free "fast-food" experience there, too! Watch for one in your community and then support them.

I also continue my education in all things agriculture and add to my knowledge base by attending at least one farmer's conference each year. TOFGA holds one, Farmer Brad of Home Sweet Farm usually has a great Grower's Symposium down in the Brehnam area each late winter/early spring and this year, I was very fortunate to be chosen to attend Southern SAWG's 20th Annual Conference in Chattanooga, TN!

My attendance there was part of the Share the Wealth program that TOFGA participated in with Southern SAWG. I did get homework, but I was able to attend a wonderful conference I would not have otherwise been able to afford. One of my awesome CSA members donated air miles so I even got to fly there! This of course meant fewer days away from the farm - quite the consideration when animals are in your care. You might get away with a big bowl of food and water and an extra litter box for the 3 house cats, but try that for chickens or horses.... Thankfully, I have a lot of friends of the farm to help out with my furry or feathered "kids". It makes leaving them behind much less stressful.

The SAWG conference was filled with new faces from across the southern region and those of some familiar Texas friends as well. The topics ranged from intensive to basic record keeping, which is a lot more important in farming than one might think, to details of the latest university studies done on things like growing fruit in hoop houses - versus out in open fields and of course, sustainable farming was the underlying theme. There were a few presentations on Urban Farming, one by friends of mine, Skip and Erin from Austin at Green Gate Farms, who talked about the various activities that some farms are holding as "value added" type programs to help round out the farm's income stream. The Taste of Tennessee dinner I shared with Austin, Texas friends, Carol Anne and Larry, (also presentering at the conference), from Austin's beloved Boggy Creek Farm, was incredible and lots of fun, too. And then, probably one of the highlights of the event - the Seed Swap

Now this was a fun seed swap I've gotta say. I wasn't really prepared for it - don't recall seeing it on the schedule before I left Dallas so I didn't come with any seeds from home. But that didn't matter - all were welcome to come in and swoop up some of the neatest, prettiest, and some of the more rare and treasured seeds from fellow Southern region farmers I'd ever seen - and certainly ever heard of.

I picked up several kernels of corn seeds from original Cherokee Corn, which I was explained has to have 8 rows of kernels to be authentic. I felt like I went to Jack's field and found the seeds from his beanstalk as I gathered beans from several farmers' troves. Speckled climbing, Reverend Taylor pole butterbean, white 1/2 Runner snap bean, Preacher pea, Snow on the Mountain butter bean, Bradham stock, a little gray pea I forgot to put in the freezer that I hope the weevils haven't ruined, Owen soybean - a non GMO bean I'm told is good for Edamame, some Dixie Queen watermelon, Mammoth Gray Sunflowers, a pink peanut that dates back to the 1840's and a few other fun things I can't wait to try.

I almost hate to plant some of them - feel like they should be framed! But plant I will - even though there are not really enough to harvest a full crop of each kind; the whole idea is sustainability. Plant this year to raise a seed crop, collect the seeds, OK, maybe I'll have to taste test a few, and then save them for next year to plant a full crop to harvest. The seeds we save each year from our regions, and eventually our own land, become more resilient to our growing conditions and typically will produce better results the deeper the generation of seeds go. Plus, it perpetuates some of our original foods and the fun names and stories that go along with them.

My traveling companions and I enjoyed our visit to Chattanooga despite the wintry weather - it wasn't much warmer, if at all, back home in Dallas anyway. And we got to experience the city's Free, fun, electric powered public transit bus system - Hmmm, DART, you paying attention? It looped around from our hotel to the downtown area where we found the most sinful cupcakes at Chattanooga Cupcakes, (I know, original, eh?) and Lupi's, a local pizza joint - that used local, organic farm fresh ingredients! Now how cool is that? And, as a former Chicago pizza junkie, I might add, that it was a pretty darn good pizza!

We pirated the remote control in the airport's business lounge on the way home to watch the Cowboys' first half of their playoff loss for the Superbowl, and arrived back home full of ideas, tons of great information and instructional books and DVD's to share with other farmers at home and beyond, new farmer friends' names and oooh, those SEEDS!

Back home to our farms we go - winter still holding on strong. Ah, when will Spring be here?

Eat Your Food - Naturally!