Archive for February, 2012

February 11, 2012

Approaching Johnny's Research Farm

The high tunnel, still covered in plastic

Will and Randy in front of the uncovered high tunnel (plastic is bunched up along the length)

A few hardy plants growing in the tunnel

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Finally, Some Snow!

February 5, 2012

It’s a cold February day and the sun is sparkling on recent fallen snow – so beautiful! I went out on snowshoes this morning and it was -18 degrees but -27 with wind chill, however I don’t think it was that cold for a lot of the walk because we were sheltered in the woods. I was well bundled up and quite comfortable and Cory was, as usual, oblivious to the cold as long as there were smells of wildlife to keep him occupied. We have had so little snow this winter that I’ve only had snowshoes on twice, so when we got a foot of the white stuff a few days ago, I was out there, blazing trails!

Will and I are just back from a couple of days in Maine where we went to pick up some farm supplies from Johnny’s Seeds. We had ordered all of our bulky supplies (those not available locally) from Johnny’s so we could pick them all up in one run and avoid the very high shipping charges of stuff purchased from Quebec and Ontario. We have invested in a pipe bender to make high tunnels and also bought the greenhouse plastic from Johnny’s. We bought lots of row cover (another bulky item) and we hopefully won’t need any more of that for a while. We also invested in a new seeder, a Jang for more precision seeding. Friends of ours who bought one last year raved about it and we reckoned the cost of it would be offset by the reduced need for thinning (carrots, beets and turnips) and getting these root crops to marketable sizes quicker. This is especially an issue with turnips because we are always trying to outrun (out-fly?) the root maggot.

We had lots to organize for this less than 20 hour adventure: a large order with Johnny’s (they don’t keep all items on site and have to ship them from different places), a contract with a customs broker so we could import everything hassle-free, organizing dates with Adrien and Sophie (our farm-sitters) plus we had to schedule it on two days guaranteed snow and ice-free because our truck doesn’t have snow tires! Yes, a miracle of planning and luck and we managed to pull it off. We even managed to pick up our season’s organic seed potatoes on our way through Fredericton (thanks to Good Spring Farm). The only small hitch came about 40 minutes into our 6 1/2 drive to Johnny’s: all the truck’s brake failure warning lights came on! I was driving at the time and when I told Will we had warning lights (one orange, one red), he immediately reached for the manual. He confirmed that the lights meant we had no brake system so we pulled off the highway at the next exit to check this out. Fortunately the brakes were fine and there was no loss of fluid. We reckon the sensors were malfunctioning and eventually the warning lights went off and the rest of the trip continued without any problems.

We were very impressed with Johnny’s Seeds. It is huge and located on three different sites: seed storage and packing, a call centre and a research farm. We didn’t have time to see everything but had a tour of the research farm and got to see their high tunnels. Johnny’s employs around 200 people and, even though the seed business is highly seasonal, by juggling different duties, people manage to get full-time employment. For example, the people who work on the research farm, growing out all the different varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers in the catalogue, switch to being on the phones during the winter. One of the benefits of this is that if you phone to ask for more information on particular varieties, the person you’re talking do may very well have actually grown these varieties, so you get good quality information. Johnny’s is worker-owned, too, so everyone working there has a share in the company and interest in making sure it works at its best. I’ve always had really good service from Johnny’s and I now understand why. It was also interesting to learn that seed companies work together and Johnny’s will often sell seed to smaller companies (Vesey’s or Halifax Seeds) since some seed that comes from Europe is sold in sizes larger than small companies can handle. I am sorry we didn’t have time to tour the seed handling facilities, but I’m sure we’ll get back there again one day.

This was also a bit of an escape weekend for Will and I: we sometimes have some of our best talks when we’re trapped in a vehicle together for 13 hours! We stayed the night in Bangor and ate out but were dismayed to discover that the city had no sidewalks! Imagine looking at a restaurant across the road from your motel and realizing the only way you could get there, other than by driving, was to brave 4 lanes of traffic, dashing from one icy roadside to the other. We walked around after dinner, too, and discovered that there were no sidewalks, no walk lights and no crosswalks anywhere in at least that part of Bangor. Maybe there were sidewalks and they just hadn’t been ploughed, but there were still no walk lights or crosswalks. I guess this is what we call faulty city design and you wonder how much it contributes to a high obesity rate in a particular area.

Sophie and Adrien did a great job of minding the farm. The goats were shy at first but took to them as soon as they realized they were the food bringers. We arrived home by mid afternoon and were pleased to be welcomed by a wonderful meal in the oven and were catered to right down to ice wine with dessert and the all the dishes washed. Thank you, Adrien and Sophie, once again, we consider ourselves very lucky!

This coming week is packed with activities. Windy Hill Farm is joining Ferme Alva and L’Oasis de Fines Herbes to form NB’s first organic marketing co-operative. It started small, as these things usually do: we wanted to create a more noticeable stall at the farmer’s market, have an earlier start in the season and better selection throughout the season. So we started talking with Alva last year, got together this year to talk seriously and were joined by Ginette with her herbs. Once we started talking about who sells what at the farmer’s market, we realized that we needed another outlet for surplus produce and decided to look into restaurants. We now have an agreement with The Green House Restaurant in Shediac to supply them with one full share of veggies from each CSA farm, plus all the herbs that Ginette can supply, and offers of any extras we may have available (when all those broccoli plantings come on at once). The chef is from Calgary and the sous-chef from BC and they are used to working with local, organic produce. They had been unable to find reliable supplies of local produce and by using our CSA system, I think we’ll overcome this. This year will definitely be a “get to know you” year where we’ll probably iron out lots of rough areas and hopefully next year, we can expand the CSA option to a larger number of shares. It’s nice to meet chefs who are excited at the thought of getting seasonal surprises each week! We are also looking at connecting with a restaurant in Bouctouche this season and may consider other restaurants in the future.

I am also working with a nonprofit group in Cocagne (Groupe de Developpement Durable de Pays du Cocagne Sustainable Development Group) on a food security project. I am collecting information on the numbers of farmers in Kent County, what the farm produces, how much and what room there is for expansion. It is not easy info to collect mainly because the most currant census info isn’t out yet, government departments aren’t able to give out names, government info isn’t broken down by county and there are so many farmers who don’t register their farms officially (with NB Agricultural Alliance or the National Farmer’s Union). A lot of my information is coming one farmer-contact at a time, so it’s slow and sometimes awkward (“there’s a guy who bought the place off of so and so a few years ago, I think he grows strawberries”). I am working through it and gathering some useful information, though as everywhere, the biggest constraint to food security is the lack of farmers. The existing farmers are ageing and few of them have family or others to take over. We have lots of land and an amazing number of facilities in Kent Co. (three inspected abattoirs, two cheese-makers and two big grain handlers) but all I keep hearing over and over again is how much has disappeared. I really think we need to work hard to get people farming, any way we can.

Well, I think there’s a really nice little segue here: we have ourselves an apprentice for the 2012 season! Sarah will start with us early in May and stay on for six months, learning all we have to teach (and more because we’ll take her to a few other farms, too). Sarah is keen to learn a bit of everything and wants this experience to find out if she really wants to become a farmer. She has an interest and some experience in wild-crafting medicinal plants and preparing dried preparations and teas. We will support her in a small medicinal herb business on the farm, some wild-crafting and some cultivating, while she helps us out with the fruits, veggies, goats and whatever else we have going on. Sarah is also a yoga teacher and may help us be better at incorporating healthy things like yoga into our busy farm lives. For now we are getting organized for her stay: equipping the tiny house with everything you need to be comfortable and writing up our farm emergency plan, safety plan and a curriculum for learning farm skills.

Well I think I should finish this off and send it to the blogosphere. The groundhog said that there were 6 weeks of winter left – as if there would be any less in this part of the world! Hopefully we’ll get a bit more snow, too.

February 5, 2012

A picture our neighbors took of a lynx (bobcat?) behind their place, back in 2009 - I would love to see one of these!