Watch as Farmers Grow

Winter Thoughts

January 23rd, 2023 | Posted by miker in Musings from the Field - (Comments Off on Winter Thoughts)

Outside the rain has been pouring down, and every farm task is muddy, wet and kinda grey.

One positive reflection is the NOFA NJ Organic Winter Conference is all lined up and sold out. We’ve put a lot into providing scholarships, to remove cost as a limiting factor, and the schedule of workshops is solid. Now we have to find a way to host more people! We’ll need a bigger space, but getting bigger requires more support. The NJ organic movement still hasn’t made it onto large corporate or even healthcare agendas, so we still are a small voice, our desires for soil, farm and community health still unheard by most, while small but meaningful connections remain the strength that keeps us going.

The USDA has heard us though, and the money to support ecological focused farming is starting to get through the gauntlet of pretenders and naysayers. There is a regional grant to promote Transitions to Organic Practices that NOFANJ is a partner organization to. We will use the Grant Supporting Funds to boost Farmer to Farmer Mentoring programs, like our Journey Person Program, focusing on helping farmers get certified Organic and benefit from the long term commitment to ecological focused farming that represents.

On the home farm front, we are trialing seed germination on Lisianthus, and other tricky crops, continuing to apply for a local Cannabis Cultivation permit, tending to some frost heaved Hazelnut Seedlings and winter chicken care, and cutting up the endless Ash borer killed trees that are falling on fences and threatening structures. Our annual Organic Certification application is submitted, we need to get our NJDA Hemp Program application filed for 2023, file taxes, and get as much administration done as possible before the weather improves, when I’ll find it hard to sit down again.

Listening to the news it appears that being focused on local production of healthy food and valuable crops remains important as ever. Arrogant individuals exemplified by the Murderer Putin, and lying politicians closer to home, leave me certain that the pressing crises of Poverty and Refugees and world climatic tragedies will be untended. We are going to face increasing demands on decreasing resources and locally viable communities will be the last bastions of sanity and security. What happens close to home, how we handle disagreements and protect each others freedoms, how we provide for our needs, producing food, tending valuable resources and remembering those less fortunate than ourselves, will define us.

I am grateful for the incredible luck that has brought me to this time and place, I am invested in trying to make good choices about my impact on the earth and my communities health, and I know that for the most part, all humans want the world to be a safe and healthy place, if for no other reason than to have it be safe for their families and friends. Putin will eventually be brought down, kids will get better than us at navigating social media hype, and clarity of purpose will reassert itself, as scarcity and challenges sort out the next decades. Thank you to the Great Spirit for life on Earth, to teachers and mentors for guidance, to friends and family for joy and purpose, and the endless list of things to do for opportunity.

Prepping for the Farmers Market, in the Year of Covid-19

May 15th, 2020 | Posted by miker in Community Affairs | Musings from the Field - (Comments Off on Prepping for the Farmers Market, in the Year of Covid-19)

This Friday, my partner Colleen, and our friend Tami, and I, harvested a lot; hardy greens, Kales, Napa, Collards, Spinach and some Swiss Chard. Yesterday I had harvested Arugula and Micro Greens. We also had a stash of Radishes from a previous harvest.

I am very particular about the Produce rinsing, so that is my Job. Fill the bulk tanks, immerse and agitate the produce, spin it dry, bulk pack it into bio bags, until we package.

Colleen and Tami returned from lunch, garbed themselves in face masks, and packed greens for about 4 hours.

All this is fairly normal, except that the whole time, we were wearing face masks. And both Moms had to get their kids connected and functioning with Virtual School in the morning and another chance to reinforce the need to “do your virtual school work!” while trying to make lunch and get a bite themselves.

Our Farmers Market has taken many steps to accommodate Social Distancing and avoiding crowds. They have posted instructions for a new entrance, allowing a line of cars to wait until being allowed into the parking area. Instructions on customer behaviors – wear a mask, don’t bring kids, don’t loiter chatting, or gather in groups, line up appropriately and don’t take a long time shopping.

Our stand is going to be bare bones – three stations – #1 place your order, #2 here’s your produce, #3 please pay by check, or exact change and Bring your own Pen!

All our produce is going to be $5, or $10 and each unit is already packed. A lot of my customers are going to be unhappy with this, “too much greens” they’ll say. Its true, I’d rather set up the usual display, lots of colors and options, allowing browsing, custom selections and enjoyment of the moment.

But this is serious – we are farmers, and we want to get the food to you. Our customers need access to food, and honestly, if major food distribution systems falter, local Farmers Markets will, all the sudden, be valued by a lot more people. We have no idea how many customers to expect, and want everyone to get a healthy dose, of the high quality, whole foods, we are bringing you. If it seems like too much greens, chop it finer, and add it to more meals. Hearty Greens will keep you Healthy!

As a manager, and as a worker, as a father and a husband, a Brother, I am stressed out, by this Covid-19 crisis. I don’t like to wear a mask, but I believe it is critical to reduce exposure between people. I am a key shopper for my family, and just as I expect the folks who serve me, to be careful of how they act, I too am very careful to protect the food chain that I provide. I already washed my hands, all the time, now I regularly am spritzing diluted bleach solution, and wiping down every time I enter and leave a public space, because if a molecule of virus gets on me, I want to weaken and remove it. Keeping myself – and my family, and my customers – free of Covid-19, is the priority now, and it takes up a lot of time, energy and emotional space.

This Virus Crisis is a wake up call – Nature is in charge here, and anything can happen. Humans have carved wide paths through the Paradise that we’ve been born into, and we are quick to call out that others are wrong and nasty. Everyday, we make decisions about how to be, whether to hoard or to share, whether to help or exclude. You can see the people wearing masks, and making space for others, and know that they are the people who are aware of others, who recognize that their actions matter, and they make up the real strength of a community, struggling with a new challenge.

See you at the market, (if you are the designated shopper), and know that (most likely) I am smiling at you, behind my mask.

Ecology and Farming is a constant Balance

June 21st, 2018 | Posted by miker in Musings from the Field - (Comments Off on Ecology and Farming is a constant Balance)

Ecology and Farming is a constant balance.

Notes from the Field:

Task: Maintain low production hay field, by mowing.

Objective; to control against invasive species, encourage “cut and regrow” species ( like clover ), and avoid rank, overgrown conditions that require heavier equipment than we have.

First step is to mow at least two passes around the field, defining the edges clearly, and exposing any hazards that may have fallen from hedgerows, or been left from previous activities in neighboring fields.  In the Veg D Field,  there is a Ground Hog warren, hazard, that I mow with the brush hog, before cutting hay with the Haybine.  This time I planned on dividing the field in two equal parts, while mowing with the brush hog, to simplify the next process of haying..

Observations that caused me to question my Farming Objectives..

The Canada Thistle patches in the field are supporting vigorous populations.. Barn Swallows, Goldfinches and Bees and Wasps of all kinds..  So the Balance of Responsibility begins to cause doubt in my Plan.. Perhaps the Habitat provided by the wild Thistle flowers outweighs the non productive goal of controlling invasive s…  By not mowing,  the families of Red Wing Black birds will have a chance to finish raising their babies..

SO, I decided to take a nuanced approach, Mow out the perimeter, divide the field for future mowing, but leave the Thistle bounty for the Goldfinches, maintaining a plan to mow prior to allowing the seed heads to blow into neighboring fields, as possible..  THEN I hit the brakes, because RIGHT in the middle of the field is a large stand of Milk Weed, a wild flower critical to sustaining specialized wild species, like Monarch Butterflies.  I’ve made an effort to protect flowering MilkWeed when possible, so ended up circling the patch with the mower, leaving a big block of Wild Flowers, mixed with all kinds of other flowering invasive s, clovers and grasses to do their own chaotic things..

Farming is an effort to shape our relationship with Nature, ideally to produce consumable products.  Ecology is the study of Life, with the intent to learn more about our place in…. Life.  Opportunity is the chance to try to balance Productivity with the Right Choices.  I’m grateful for the freedom to choose, in my path, and Ill endeavor to consider the farmers around, and to follow me, and mostly I hope to be a supporter of dynamic and diverse systems and communities..

MikeR June 2018

Agua 2012-2017

November 13th, 2017 | Posted by miker in Musings from the Field - (Comments Off on Agua 2012-2017)

Agua 2012 – 2017

Farmcat, trainer of Pups and a true friend..

Watchin Out

Fennel Flowers/Plant Files #3

April 7th, 2017 | Posted by Casey in Musings from the Field - (Comments Off on Fennel Flowers/Plant Files #3)


Fall Observations

October 4th, 2016 | Posted by miker in Musings from the Field - (Comments Off on Fall Observations)

Fall Observations; October 4, 2016

Mike R

As the season changes from Summer to Fall, the Farm Manager takes stock of how it went and what can be accomplished before winter sets in.

We had a busy season, having to put aside our High Tunnel Project in order to get through the other Priority Lists.  We were joined by two excellent workers, Sam and Christine, who brought interest and enthusiasm along with hard work and positive focus!  Markets went well, matching previous years, despite increasing competition from other new markets and the increasing availability of organic produce from mainstream distributors and therefor, most supermarkets.  Production this year seemed to start well, and a number of new items were added to the crop list.  Flowers seemed more abundant, but records show production may have been lower than last year.  We went into the season knowing increased labor costs would scour any profits, and to date that seems to be borne out, not gonna be a profitable year.  The flip side of that reality, is the production utilizing reduced tillage techniques in the field shows real promise and is exemplary of how North Slope Farm is still a leader in applying Stewardship Principles to modern practice.  We have maintained production, while reducing overall tillage by a significant amount and are developing a comfort level, with the steps to take, as we move forward.  Tree Fruit and Blackberry production was non-existent, though strawberries produced well.  Labor costs of managing and picking the berries make me skeptical of their value to us though.

Moving forward – Its all about maintaining income at the markets to try to keep from drowning in uncovered costs.  I have encouraged my crew to take advantage of off farm opportunities, as they are available, (for their personal advancement and experience), so the reduced labor time requires increased efficiency in management and production – no time to slack off, even if our natural cycle tells us to get up later, stop work earlier and eat lots of rich foods!  We pushed to get a last barrage of outdoor seeding done, to last us through the first hard frosts.  Now we need to (kinda late) finish establishing crops in our High Tunnels for Winter Production.  Also to generate cash, we need to increase our production of micro greens and are going to attempt regular plantings on Basil in pots to sell at the markets as fresh herbs.  This means turning on systems in our Seedling Greenhouse, which will add late season cost we usually avoid.  To make it worth it, we need to get the seeding done, maintain moisture, temperature and generally stay on top of successions of production!  Likewise we need to push market sales, our service must be excellent, products must be beautifully presented, harvesting and handling must be efficient so we have time to get other improvements and additions attended to!  Cover cropping will be reduced this year, in relation to reduced tillage practices.  Our Favorable Furrow method provides for the establishment of clover covers during cultivation, which ideally, survive the fallow/pasture season and all fields go into the Winter with established cover.  So far this has been working, and I only anticipate chisel plowing and having to cover crop 1 acre of the 8 acres involved in active production and fallow rotation.  Additionally, I hope to “tune up” poorly cover cropped areas by broadcasting seed and covering with a compost layer.  This may be unrealistic with our reduced labor situation, but as harvest times decrease with the die off of tomatoes and flowers, extra time may open up, just gotta manage workers, tasks and equipment effectively.