Dear CSA shareholders,
Today was the annual Heirloom Tomato Tasting at Grinnell Heritage Farm (GHF). I worked at GHF for three and half seasons, and I've attended every tomato tasting since 2009 (it was a garlic tasting in 2010). It was great to see Andy Dunham giving the farm tour, catch up with some former co-workers, and see friends and colleagues from around Iowa. When I decided to start Middle Way Farm and I told people I was leaving Grinnell Heritage Farm to start my own farm, not infrequently the response was "Won't you be in competition with Grinnell Heritage Farm?" or "How do Andy and Melissa feel about that?" When I compare my 1/3 acre of produce to the 20 acres of vegetables at Grinnell Heritage Farm, its easy to see how they would not feel threatened by my operation. But the truth is, Andy and Melissa have encouraged me to farm and have been supportive of my operation. Rather than see me as competition, they look at what I'm doing as another vegetable farm in Grinnell that will help grow the local food system. When I decided to start the farm, my goal was not replicate what Grinnell Heritage Farm did, but to take what I had learned there and create something different that would bring more people into Community Supported Agriculture and the local food system. The local food market is not a zero sum game where what one farmer gains hurts another. There is so much potential growth, so many food dollars that are going out of state that could and should be spent locally. A rising seas lifts all boats.
Grinnell doesn't just need one farm. It needs 10 farms, 20 farms, or more that are serving local people with food. There are 10,000 people in Grinnell. The vast majority of them are not spending their food dollars locally. There is the potential for many growers to be serving that need. What if we had a dairy outside Grinnell that sold their milk and milk products locally? Fairfield has Radiance Dairy, a grass-based farm run by Francis Thicke, candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 2010. Decorah in northeast Iowa, a town that is actually smaller than Grinnell, has a co-op grocery selling lots of local food and more CSAs than are currently serving Grinnell. Luther College in Decorah purchases 35% of their food locally, which blows Grinnell College out of the water. There are so many possibilities for the right kinds of operations to get started in Grinnell. It just takes a willing person or two, some background experience and skills, and the right siutation. There are significant obstacles and challenges, to be sure, for small growers and producers to get established and create viable businesses. But the most important thing is that we need people who are willing to try, even if they fail, and consumers who are willing to make it priority to support local food businesses. As I get my operation established, my long-term goal is to help other young people learn about what it takes to farm on a small scale and to break down the barriers that keep people from thinking its possible. I was one of those people several years ago, and its thanks to the encouragement and example of other young farmers that I decided to take the plunge. I also want to work to educate as many people as I can about the joys and benefits of buying local food. Until we truly begin to see the value of local food, and see that it is fundamentally different from food that is shipped into our state from distant centers of production, than its very unlikely that local food will become anything more than the "niche" label that it carries right now.
Okay, enough about the local food system. What's happening in the garden? The watermelons will have to wait another week, unfortunately. I harvested one to test if it was ripe and it was not. Patience will have to prevail. As we wait for watermelons, I'm offering one of my favorite winter squash this week, delicata. They are a small, thin-skinned squash that does not store as well as varieties like butternut, so use them quickly. The squash will begin to get spongy and soft as it ages. They are great baked as fries or rounds, or used for stuffing. They do not need to be peeled, they can be eaten skin and all. The variety I grow was developed at Johnny's Selected Seeds in Maine, an employee owned seed company that supplies many small commercial growers in the Northeast and Midwest. My winter squash crop was largely a failure this year, so this will be the only week delicata squash is available. I'm looking to purchase some more winter squash later in the month from my friends at Tabletop Farm in Nevada, who look to have a fine winter squash crop this year. I have a few pie pumpkins available that I will offer a little later in the month. The cippolini onions (pronounced chip-oh-LEE-nee, means "little onion" in Italian) will only be offered this week. They are a flat, thin-skinned Italian onion which are milder and sweeter than the other onions I grow. They are perfect for grilling (they work great on a skewer), roasting whole, or chopping up and carmelizing in a pan. Like the delicata, they do not store as well as other onions so use them soon.
Juliet and cherry tomatoes continue to ripen in droves. This week, I am offering bulk pricing on Juliet tomatoes for canning and freezing. Juliets are an excellent sauce tomato. To freeze them, I just rinse them, put them on a baking sheet with a dish towel on it, and put them in the freezer. Once they are frozen, I'll pour them into a labeled plastic freezer bag. That way, they are easy to remove individually when I want to use them this winter. I will offer a similar deal on peppers later this month. Cucumbers and zucchini are now only available as an extra until they disappear completely. Greens beans will also continue to be an extra until I start harvesting the second planting in a few weeks. More carrots will be available next week and in subsequent weeks. My second planting is maturing nicely, but it still needs a little more time to size up. Also available as extras are eggplant, red cabbage, arugula (as baby greens or bunch greens), and collard greens. Every time I think the broccoli is over, it just keeps producing! I'm now entering the fourth month of broccoli harvesting from the spring planting I made, which is amazing and unexpected.
Seeded grapes are available this week from the Devilders at Sojourn Farm near Brooklyn. David Devilder grows many different varieties of grapes that he sells locally. The one's delivered this week will be among 3 different varieties, including a purple and a green variety. You may order up to 3 pounds for delivery with your CSA. Let me know if you have a preference for purple or green. If you are interested in more for making juice, jam, or jelly, let me know as soon as possible. The grapes are NOT organic, but the Devilders are conscientious growers who use chemicals sparingly.
Rurally Good Festival: It's just three weeks until the the Rurally Good Festival! My farm festival will be from 11 am to 2 pm on Saturday, September 20th. The event is ticketed but CSA shareholders and their families will be admitted for free. For more details visit the website: http://www.rurallygoodfestival.com/
One of the most important parts of farming is controlling water movement across your land. The paradigm for most farms is to move water off the land and into waterways where it can be carried away quickly. That makes a certain sense during times of flooding like we had this spring, but when drought hits those same farmers may be wishing they still had some of that moisture for their crops. One technique to control water that helps in both floods and droughts is a swale. Swales are land features that include a ditch dig into the ground and a berm or dirt wall on the lower side. Swales are built on contour, meaning they are built along the same elevation on a hillside, following the lines on a topographic map. Instead of channelling water into valleys and causing it to run off of a farm, often causing erosion as it does, swales can be constructed to catch water as it runs downhill and channel it slowly across the hillside from wet valleys towards dry ridges. During heavy rains, this helps slow and distribute water across the landscape, preventing erosion and flooding. During dry times, the water that swales have distributed towards drier ridges now allows crops to survive in those drier soils. For a short demonstration of how water harvesting swales work, check out this video
Until next week!
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