Author Archives: miker
Monthly Summary– August 2012
Logs reviewed and summary prepared by MR, August 10, 2013
General Observations: Eight Thunder storm events noted and 21 irrigation applications. Electrical fire near farmhouse after powerline broke along route 579. It seemed like a lot of tractor activity with late season plowing and haying, and lots of planting as the crew prepares for the end of the season. Finally MR expands the Big Garden Beds, plowing in a new section to the south of the Blackberries.
Equipment 85 hrs: Up from 30 hours last year, 15 hours mowing with the Kabota, 25 hours with the Ford, 10 hours with the JD (it was only 5 last August) and 12.5 with our new Case 265. Seemed to be lots of Tractor time for our 2nd year Trainees KG and RR, cultivating and bedforming, also chisel plowing for KG. Haybine required removal of blade and reriviting of two cutter teeth. Observed and assisted by KG, RR and TH.
Administration 25 hrs: As ever, accounting and payroll. Payroll for the month was $5,987 for 6 workers ($3,000 less than ’11). Cash coming in is regularly deposited and quarters and ones retrieved for the cashbox. Significantly less hours than last August, probably too busy in field.
Infrastructure 100 hrs: Hard predation of chickens noted, down to 55 birds total. Field edges and Diversions mowed. 8/16 the fence lines and irrigation valves were weed wacked. MR pointed out clear example of soil erosion at the end of a newly planted field beds to crew. Emphasized the significance of soil loss even on a small scale – imagine how bad on a large scale. New BGB’s! finally plowed into shape by MR with JD using moldboard plow. Fairly roughly done, enough to clearly delineate the beds for excavator to finish the job. While Moldboard plow attached, MR modified the layout of the Fields in Veg. C, moving the central field to the North, to accommodate a poorly drained area between the south and mid sections. Disc harrow in use at end of month for rough tillage of fallow fields.
Greenhouse 14.5 hrs: RR and KG slogged thru “hard work!” of clearing zinnias from Farmhouse Gothic in order to plant Tomatoes. During rainy days, transplants thinned. Weekly thereafter members of the crew trellised the House Tomatoes, pruning and clipping. By end of month, House Tomatoes yielding well but losing more than half to rodent damage – Critical to control rodent population – Cats adopted, but too late to protect this years crop.
Composting 6 hrs: 10.5 cubic yards applied to fields, pre-planting.
Planting 78 hrs: Training for KG and RR; bed forming and the associated tractor ‘Set-up’ of straight shanks and spyders. Ordered Cover Crop Seed; 1,200# Triticale Rye, 250# Hairy Vetch and 320# Winter Pea. CH filled out edges of Corner Garden with perennial Sweet William flowers. Nice notes of crew working well together, tuning up BGB’s for big direct seeding push on 8/17.
Crop Care 174 hrs: Hand weeding in Salad mix, with heavy weed pressure and poor germination. Weeding and cultivating, Tomato Trellising both field and greenhouse. With increased irrigation towards end of month. Late Blight discovered in Ralphs House, MR cut down and buried effected plants under hay and plastic tarp in order to reduce spore distribution – seemed to contain the Blight from spreading.
Harvesting 376 hrs: Down 200 hours from last year, was it increased efficiency or less to harvest? Multiple entries of Harvesting being disturbed by heavy t-storms in first half of August. Carrot yields from 100’ BGB’s of 500#! Special harvest and discussion of the ‘Wild Greens- Purslane’ from beds that had poor yield of the intended squash crop. Tomatoes yielding well, over 50 trays harvested on 8/21. Late cutting of Hay in Veg. D and Central Northeast fields, and raking too, hoping to get crop in before arrival of Hurricane Issac. Crew introduction to harvesting zinnias – stem size, where to cut and handling into buckets.
Handling 82 hrs: Friend of RCM asked to use our facilities for upcoming event, needed space for many sunflowers. Full training review for crew regarding selection and sorting of ripe vs ripening, handling trays and calculating the cost of labor into the actual yield 8/21.
Marketing 187 hrs: There was a “market assessment” done on 8/14 as we tried to identify the cause of decreasing sales as compared to last year. The most significant finding was that the amount of produce sold, compared to what it should have earned was consistently inaccurate, sometimes more, sometimes less. One clear difference was the impact of having SO Blueberries last year and not in 2012. The take home message was despite a decent effort to accurately record crop sales, we need to do a lot better recording sales info.
Hopewell– $383, $553, $467, $507, $661; Total: $2,571 (decrease of $1,490 from 2011)
WWCFM– $1,231, $1,297, $1,415, $1,549; Total: $5,492 (decrease of $3,216)
Summit– $2,556, $2,670, $3,284, $3,555; Total: $12,065 (increase of $3,316)
Total August 2012 Market Income: $20,128 (decrease of $1,400 from 2011)
Special Projects 8.5 hrs: Delineation of ‘Permaculture Field’, mowing a section to be renovated into hay and defining the remaining area to be planted with Orchard and Perennial Plantings. KG took on the preparations for ‘Tomato Fight’, mowing paths. RCM culminated long hours of planning and prepping with a successful delivery of Flowers for her friends wedding. Last of the “ranchettes” killed by marauding raccoon. End of month Tomato Processing run – 650 pounds of ripe tomatoes for sauce and ketchup.
Weather: Drought conditions at beginning of Month
Week 1: Heavy shower associated with Thunder Storm.
Week 2: More Thunder storms, noted 2.5 inches in ½ hour, then another 3.5” three days later.
Week 3: Finally, Clear weather, conditions drying.
Week 4: Dry until last days then saturated with heavy shower. Weather turning cool. Hurricane off Coast of Louisiana approaching.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Summit Downtown Inc., Board of Trustees, voted on Wednesday, June 19th – ‘To maintain the Summit Downtown Farmers Market, at the Lot, located on the corner, of Deforest Ave and Maple Street.’
North Slope Farm represented the basic, stated opinions, of the Five Long Term Produce Farmers, at the Board Meeting, and we thank everyone for their time and attention.
Summit, like any City, is always seeking ways to support and foster it’s “Downtown”, as a place that citizens will come, eat, shop and socialize. The Farmers Market is a big part of supporting the environment.
Thinking about these issues, one item remains clear – To foster a “Farmer Friendly” Farmers Market – Listen to your Farmers!
Good Luck Everyone!
Summit Downtown Farmers Market
Mike Rassweiler, NorthSlopeFarm.com
June 22, 2013
Certified Organic Produce Vendor suffers from questionable actions of Summit Downtown, Inc..
Summit Downtown, Inc. has organized the Summit Downtown Farmers Market, located at the Deforest Avenue Parking lot, on the corner of Maple Street, for many years of excellent Community and Farmer Friendly access.
In 2013, the Executive Director, has instigated a move of the market to Beechwood Road and Bank Street. A simple phone poll of the 5 long term Produce vendors proved that 4 of the five vendors believe it is a bad idea to move the market, and to date, one week ahead of the move, the Market Organizers have not responded to questions about where some of the Farmers will Park their trucks. If you speak to other vendors at the market the common theme is “why move the market, the Deforest Ave and Maple Street parking lot is an excellent location.”
Public Safety – Summit Downtown Inc., seems to want to create more of a “Street Fair” environment. From a Public Safety standpoint, they are putting the downtown Businesses and Residents along Beechwood Ave at risk. The Fire Department will be virtually unable to respond to fire alarms. The Farmers Market in the Deforest Ave Parking lot allows easy access to the Community, is surrounded by parking for customers, provides Farmer Friendly access and does not create any Public Safety Hazards.
NorthSlopeFarm.com has been a long term vendor at Summit and values the opportunity originally created by the founders of the market. We were surprised to see a map (that is the only notification we have been given), that we will no longer have direct access to our Market Truck, during the market. We use our insulated truck to keep our fresh produce fresh, so the first customer at 8am and the last customer at 1pm receive high quality, safe and cool produce. Summit Downtown Inc., did not inform us we would lose access to our truck this year, nor have they replied to our requests for concrete information about where or how to manage this new arrangement!
Moving the Summit Downtown Farmers Market is at best, a bad idea. At worst, it is a example of an organization that has lost track of the original intention to protect a space for Farmers and the community to gather, easily and safely, downtown.
We will try to honor our contract to participate in the Market, but it saddens us to be punished for our years of service, by having a great location taken away, replaced by a situation that seems designed to crush our spirit and reduce the quality of service that our customers have come to count on.
If you are concerned about the arbitrary treatment of NorthSlopeFarm, in particular, and the importance of maintaining a “Farmer Friendly Market Environment”, help us figure out how to make Summit Downtown Inc., accountable for their actions. Right now they are ignoring the concerns of the vendors, putting businesses and citizens into a haphazard and unsafe situation, and acting without Ethical or Practical considerations.
A quick assessment of the current situation is that Summit Downtown, Inc. receives over $70,000 in fees from vendors. It may be that a new entity should refocus the attention of the Summit Downtown Farmers Market on protecting a safe and Farmer Friendly environment by bidding for the rental of the Deforest Avenue Parking lot. My guess is, given a choice, current vendors would choose to pay the fees to stay in the safe and easy environment of the Deforest Ave. Parking Lot. We will be looking into the question of how to submit a bid to the Parking Authority, and we would appreciate any political influence that can be added to the effort of preserving what has been a great market location to Date!!
Please let us know if you would like more information by talking to us at the market, or send us an email at NorthSlopeFarm@comcast.net.
West Amwell, NJ
Certified Organic Farm
Frost Damage to Tomato Plant
Four ‘Field Beds’, about 400 Tomato Seedlings succumbed to mortal tissue damage due to freezing temperatures.
Lesson: If planting tender crops before all risk of Frost is past – Agricultural Fabric / “Remay” must be utilized or at least on hand for easy application!
We were vigorous in our staking, when we should have been setting hoops and laying out the remay…
Frost Free date for our Field is now officially back to May 20….
A Sampling of the NOFA-NJ Winter Conference
January 26 and 27, 2013
Brookdale College, Lincroft, NJ
By Mike Rassweiler, www.NorthSlopeFarm.com
Jan 30, 2013
NOFA-NJ did us all a favor by bringing Eliot Coleman, Author of The New Organic Grower, to speak as our Keynote. His focus on “Anything is Possible” was inspirational and photos of his operation profound in their simplicity and beauty. Eliot grounds the organic community in the power of principle, that building healthy soil, and minimizing stress to our crops, will yield bounteous crops over the long haul, without expensive off farm inputs or environmental degradation. According to Eliot’s example, small land holdings not only can feed our communities, but they should be our Societies Primary (food) Focus.
I was honored to be a presenter at this Conference, speaking both Sat and Sunday. I was joined in the discussion of Mentoring Apprentices by Judy VonHandorf of Genesis Farm, Eve Minson of NOFA-NJ and Christy Asbee of Law for Food, LLC. Legal issues were laid out for future discussion and review, and North Slope Farm’s and Genesis’s Training programs were presented in detail.
In order of their scheduling, I also attended the following workshops:
Growing Healthy Fruit – Michael Phillips
I was struck by the awareness of how much Michael was prepared to share of his experience and wisdom, and that the hour was not enough to get but a taste. My take home impression was the importance of building a ‘fungal soil’. Organic farmers as a rule are invested in building the organic matter in the soil, which in turn feeds and sustains the Fungal Life, which in turn serves the health of crops. He recommended liberal, annual applications of small piles of (hardwood) wood chips to the orchard, piles that add fungal vigor to the soil. Likewise the management of diverse species of grass and broadleaf plants below the trees to promote a nutrient replenished soil within the top 10” (monocrop grass leads to nutrient poor surface soil). He recommends scything the undergrowth down, when farms are cutting their first hay, leaving the organic matter on the soil surface as mulch. Michael also recommended cutting prunings into small pieces under the tree to be broken down naturally. Apparently the small branch tips have the most benefit for sustaining fungal properties of the soil due to their high percentage of juicy buds to woody core, and don’t need to be removed unless severely diseased.
Management and Utilization of Arbuscular Mycorrrhizal Fungi – David Douds USDA
David educated me about how the whole Fungi being good for plant growth works. He described the process by which sustaining a healthy, vigorous, fungal soil actually works with plants. The Fungi develop “microscopic tree like structures in the plant root cells (arbuscules)” that grow out into the soil farther than root hairs. These fungal branches (hyphae), into the soil, can hugely increase the potential of plants to take up nutrients and water, especially in adverse conditions. The good news is that standard Organic Management practices are perfect for protecting the Fungal vigor of soils. The one exception is tillage, and repeated tillage, especially “stale seed bed techniques” can kill off the fungi in our cropping areas. To address problem areas (lack of fungal population), David is focused on a simple process any grower can manage – though of course there are details to consider. Once you know what type of AM Fungi is native to your soils, and establish that they are beneficial for the crops you plan to grow, we can foster their growth in controlled settings (grow bags planted with an annual grass), then mix the resulting fungal rich media into our potting soil for transplants. The AM Fungi will quickly reestablish its beneficial effects in the field, growing out from the transplants. These interactions between Fungi and soil foster the development of “glomalins” (glycoproteins), the magic of decomposed organic matter, that holds our soil texture together.
Designing Regional Foodsheds and Farms – Ecological Models for Development – Andrew Faust
Andrew is clearly a man driven by his awareness of the world around him. Knowledgeable about the harm that humans have done, he is an inspirational speaker about examples and potentials for humankind to do a whole lot better. He had a lot of information to share and ended the talk with some great examples of his main point – We need to design our Development, and redevelopment, to capture the real value of living systems. Biological filtration of waste and ecologically sound utilization of nutrients and energy. The power of compost to regionally manage what otherwise is treated as Waste. The potential for Urban settings to capture and utilize rainwater and waste to sustainable foster human settlement. The take home message – don’t wait for someone else to come up with the solution, put common sense practices to work in your home and communities. Capture rainwater, grow food, compost, use plants to filter air/water, reduce heat and cooling extremes and then separate grey and black water and handle them as resources not waste!
Advanced Growers Seminar – facilitated by Jess Niederer
This was a testament to the growing commitment of Government Resources to address the topics that Organic Farmers have been talking about for generations. My thanks and appreciation to the following folks who contributed their time and expertise to the Panel; Karen Kritz – NJDA, Erich Bremer- NJDA, Matthew Pavone-FSA, Jack Rabin-NJAES, Justine Cook-NJDA and Gail Bartok-NRCS. Jack Rabin pointed out that he is frustrated by Organic Farmers not taking advantage of the wealth of accumulated knowledge of conventional agriculture. Two resources he touted were The Rutgers Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations, and an On-Farm Composting web resource on the Rutgers- NJ Agricultural Experiment Station website. In general, these agencies will respond to the expressed needs of regional Agriculture, breaking down the barriers between serving Conventional Agriculture and Ecological Agriculture will only lead us to a better place. Karen has been working for years, trying to make the recycling of waste agricultural plastic a reality in NJ. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been a leader in adopting the principles of Organic Management and offers programs designed to incentivize Transition to Organic Practices, Nutrient Management and Cover Cropping. As always, Erich of the NJ Organic Certification Program offered real time understanding of the challenges facing Organic Farmers and serves as our advocate in the NJDA (poor guy, it’s lonely in there). The NJDA has yet to include the Organic Certification Logo on their website home page, embarrassed I guess, to be associated with a bunch of counterculture hippies.
Pruning and Training Fruit Trees – Pete Tischler and Mark Canright
North Slope has invested a lot, recently, in fruit trees, and getting advice about their pruning and management is greatly appreciated. It is always nice to have an expert bring the task to life. These guys brought multiple samples of branch and trunk development on which to demonstrate pruning techniques. It was the end of the weekend yet they still were able to get me excited about going out and getting started on the Pruning!
Another excellent Winter Conference, attended by a great crowd, with many more workshops than I was able to attend.
Thank You NOFA-NJ for the commitment and time it takes to make this come together!
NOFA-NJ Winter Conference; January 2013
Growing the Next Crop of Farmers – Hosting and Mentoring Apprentices
North Slope Farm –
Training Program; sponsored by; The Stewardship Guild
Farm Manager and Primary Trainer
Training Curriculum and Text Book: www.NorthSlopeFarm.com
North Slope Farm’s training program officially began in 2006, when the basic framework of Training assumptions were put to the test. Our business is operated as a completely open book, ideally introducing trainees to all the steps of business management. There is so much detail to Introduce trainees to that we break the operation down into Elements. (The Elements are listed as sub categories, under Training, on the right hand side of our Web Site). The first step in Training is to introduce the Elements, and start the process of prodding the Trainee to see the Operation as the sum of its parts. The Program will succeed only as a three year process, by the Third year the farm has the potential of benefiting from experienced workers who will help inspire and maybe challenge First and Second Year’s. Best case scenario, Third Years will be taking on their own Special Projects; that might provide other Trainees with additional avenues of exploration and inspiration. The Academic Piece of the Process, is the requirement, that all Trainees contribute to regular Monthly Summaries, Date Collection and Annual Summaries that are utilized to assess the farm’s production, strengths and weaknesses and potential viability.
• First Year- Trainees are introduced to as much as possible, and gain proficiency in Planting, Crop Care, Harvesting and Washing of hardy crops.
• Second Year- Mechanical equipment training is the focus in the second year, and Trainees must choose an Element as their “Element Focus”. This focus is the basis on which the Trainer can push the Trainee to express deeper understanding and responsibility for specific topics. Trainees must publish as Introduction and Summary of their Element Focus.
• Third Year- Trainees are expected to model good behavior, and set a standard of productivity and responsibility. They are also encouraged to branch out into Special Projects of their own, or better yet, to improve on existing systems so the Farm Operation will benefit. There is the Manager’s assumption that Third Years will be crew bosses for the morning shift (as needed) but given the freedom of self directed work in the afternoons (if possible). They are also responsible for an Element Focus, even to the point of describing the full function of an Element, assessing its value and striving to manage that reality. They must also publish their Introduction and Summary of their Focus and any Special Projects they undertake.
Teaching Philosophy: I look back to my exploration of Farming, and I always remember when my Mentor asked me, as we looked out over the fields, “what do you think we should do today?” It made me realize, in that moment, that I hadn’t really thought about it. My philosophy, in Training, is to put individuals in the position of Having to think about “What To Do”, ie. Provide them a safe space to take responsibility for achieving a farm goal. This creates a real problem for farm viability and growth. Farms survive and thrive by capitalizing on the Farmer’s strengths, providing space for workers to stumble directly negates the Farm’s efficency, but is the best way for workers to personalize the need to ‘Have a Plan” and “Develop the Skills.”
Training Process or “Formal Introduction and Practical Experience(s):
• Discussion and Presentation; often including related issues and options.
• Demonstration; practical information for “how to do it”.
• Practical Application with oversight
• Independent pursuit of activity to finalize the Trainee’s Understanding
Purpose of the Program and Societal Relevance: We need more farmers, farming more small farms, and that will not change. Those farmers need skilled and responsible workers and our Operations need to be professional, viable and sustainable. By fostering sound Training Opportunities, we will build the Trade back to the significance it held for generations, when local farms fed local populations.
Important Link and Mentoring Handbooks:
New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI)
Cultivating a New Crop of Farmers- is on-farm mentoring right for you and your farm?; Kate Hayes, Belchertown, Mass, NESFI
The On-Farm Mentor’s Guide – practical approaches to teaching on the farm; Miranda Smith, Belchertown, Mass, NESFI
Food Safety Upgrades in 2012
Farm Manager MikeR completed a 3 hour NJ Department of Agriculture “Third Party Audit Training” course, organized by NOFA-NJ. The take home message was;
“Easily Accessible Hand Washing Station with Disposable Hand Towels”
Basically there are alot of bacteria (etc) in the world that can make us sick, and most of them are just a few steps away from anybodys food. To keep our food safe it is critical that we avoid contamination! Organic Practices regulate the application and management of potential contaminants in the field and greenhouses. A common secondary source of contamination comes from workers dirty hands, dirty wash water and unsanitary handling facilities.
In 2012, at North Slope Farm, we invested in a new floor for our washing area, installed by Jason Barger. Likewise Manager Mike managed to maintain the season with hand soap and disposable towels available at our hand washing station every work day. Ecologically minded folks often scorn paper towels but they do seem to be a simple, basic method for cleaning up after ourselves. As a sanitizing cleaner we use Seventh Generation Non-Chlorine Bleach, diluted as directed for household cleaning of stainless steel surfaces.
Equipment Purchased in 2012
The following items are significant additions to the Equipment of North Slope Farm’s Training Program and basic production systems. The Cultivating Tractor has a three point hitch which finally allows us to utilize our Williams Tool Bar for close crop cultivating.
The Earth and Turf Multi Spreader has proven to be an excellent, reliable (Ground Driven) compost spreader. It allows one worker to accomplish what previously took three workers to do by hand. In first gear on our Tractor, and fully open (beaters removed) on the spreader, a full load empties nicely over two beds (down and Back). Each bed needs two passes to apply our typical 1.5 cyds per bed, I do one pass in one direction and the return in the other direction to average out vagaries in spreading.
Finally, I broke down and bought a new model, walk-behind mower, because our old Bachtold mower was viewed with such disdain and fear by Trainees as to be worthless. After asking around I went with the Billy Goat Outback, Brushcutter and in the few times we’ve used it, the BillyGoat was easier to use, though not as aggressive. We will modify the skids to get the deck closer to the ground for a more aggressive cut. The new mower allows the Manager to assign any trainee mowing jobs without fear of accident or burnout!