Watch as Farmers Grow

Monthly Summary – January and February 2010

March 4th, 2011 | Posted by miker in Monthly Summary

Monthly Summary – January and February, 2010

MikeR; Logs and records reviewed, and summary prepared 3/2/11

 General Observations: The farm is in its coldest and quietest months.  RCM had the “helm” with MR and CH returning early January from their travels, only to be gone again in February for the Big Snow Storm.  Late January heavy rains, then cold weather settling in, broken up by heavy snow from 2/6 thru 2/16.  Regular logging by RCM and MR but not a huge amount of activity.  SJ and ST show up in February for Crew Meetings and some Administration…

Equipment ? hrs;  Two major snow storms to plow out off, thank you BD!.  JD noted to be running well, if engine block heater turned on for an hour pre start-up.  Concerned in 20*F temperatures about the stress on poorly lubricated joints.  Mental note – be sure winter equipment is well greased Before the cold sets in!!

Administration ? hrs;  Financial assessment is always crying out at this time of year.  Bank account starting the season with $8,000.  Paid the $6,700 due on ’09 Federal Employee taxes (should have been paid monthly over the course of the season) and 4th Quarter NJ Employee Taxes, knocking us into the danger zone for low balance!  Transferred funds from savings account.  Experience has proven that we need about $20,000 to start up the season, after all previous year bills are paid.  Ideally this ‘cash cushion’ can be held in a business savings account, used in lean times, then paid back as income exceeds payroll liability.  Access to capital funds may be one of the greatest limitations on New Agricultural Ventures.  Our Capital, or Savings account allows us to support our bare bones operations, pre market season, without the expense of a loan.  Filed annual application for permission to redeem Farmers Market WIC and Senior Citizen Checks.  MR met with Farm Family Insurance Company Agent, Chuck Nemeth, to update Liability and Auto Insurance policies.  Hosted visit from Visiting Important Person (like getting visited by a Rock Star for MR): John Jeavons.  J. Jeavons was the Keynote Speaker for the NOFA-NJ Winter Conference on January 30.  Crew Orientation 2/4, MR handed out packets and explained NSF history, goals and maps to SJ, RCM and ST.  ST and RCM are technically our 2 new Trainees, though each will be considered 2nd years (no 1st years in 2010).  2/19 another crew meeting, setting a ‘broad brush Task List.’  2/23 met with crew to tidy office, file receipts, sort and clear seed and equipment catalogs and post year end summaries from 2009.  2/25 full crew meeting, adding BD and CH to present and discuss Crop Plan for 2010 (details under Planting).

Infrastructure ? hrs:  Rain, Freezing Temperatures, heavy snow, warming days.  Getting around, tending livestock and keeping perishable items are the primary focus.  RCM suffered thru winter of poorly operating heating system in FarmHouse. MR found farm “Silver Fridge”(small) to be heating above acceptable range due to interior fan running without coolant compressor.  Freezing temps allowed for simply unplugging Fridge and adjusting temperature by exposure to or protection from outside air.  An incandescent bulb in our walk-in cooler (large), brought the temp up from less than 30*F to 35*F despite freezing outside.  These months are always a struggle, balancing the need to protect stored produce from freezing and avoiding warming during mild days.  Many nights our silver fridge was covered with a blanket, and temp, moderated by a light bulb.  Thermometers must be kept in all spaces storing perishable items to instantly assess temperature range.  2/14 was the warmest day noted, to that date, reaching 40*F. 

Greenhouse ? hrs:  RCM had full responsibility for the Greenhouse through the winter, without any real significant guidance.  Of course MR inspects one day and finds major flooding in Ralphs House.  We have experienced this before and it looks far worse than it is.  The flooding has been an item of interest too, relative to answering the questions, ‘are the beds fully saturated?’, or ‘is the flow of water too high and the surface pools before the bed is actually fully watered?’  MR was pleased because years ago he had built up the greenhouse base, and the end at risk of being too low (off level) was holding the water from the “high end.”  With a little trenching of the central pathway, the flooding was evenly distributed the length of the bed.  RCM did not seem impressed.  Our water source is from the “FarmHouse” in the winter, the farm does not have a frost safe water source, so winter water is a challenge.  The system relies on a series of connected pipes from the Farmhouse Frost Free Hydrant, out to the greenhouses.  After use, each of the pipes is disconnected, and due to the slight slope overall, the pipes gravity drain, and are empty (not blocked by frozen water) for the next day of watering.  So!  With the Big Snow, RCM had to find the pipes, and pull them thru the snow before the next watering.  2/19 Intro to soil mix: RCM, SJ, ST; in preparation for a planting of seedlings for NOFA-NJ fundraiser.  Germination of Lettuce and Kale; in 7 days, in heated greenhouse.  2/23 Intro to Greenhouse Systems Management MR, SJ, RCM, ST; Reviewed files, observed and explained heat, venting, circulation fans, fuel (propane), electric systems and operation.  Explained the adjustment and attention to thermostats and riastats (riastat controls the speed of the fan inflating the greenhouse double ‘Poly” layers).

Composting ? hrs:  No notes logged.

Planting ? hrs:  Planted another “bed” of salad in heated greenhouse at the beginning of each month in hopes of producing “House Salad” for Nomad Pizza.  Poor germination and minimal growth caused consternation.  Prime suspect factors – too little, irregular watering, irregular seed depth and/or soil media problems.  Used 100% compost, should have been OK, even vigorous growth.  Later experimentation showed similar problem, a need to find best soil media for “Tabletop, or House Greens.”  2/25 Crop Plan Presentation and discussion with full crew, MR, BD, SJ, RCM, ST and CH.  Priority of Spring Mowing to encourage natural clover growth in hay fields.  Strong interest in planting grains, “Madonna Field” designated for Moldboard plowing, opening up three new production areas for Market Garden, for 2011.  Discussed rotation of production fields in Market Garden, focusing on the concepts of Bio-intensive – “Big Garden Beds” (BGBs) and Bio-extensive – “Field Beds”.  Established extensive “Crop Plan” file to be utilized in preparing seed order and scheduling seedling orders from greenhouse and planting plans for the season.  Issues raised; How to handle Tomatoes and isolating Solenacea, and where to plant the undecided; winter squash, peas, peppers and eggplants.

CropCare ? hrs:  Tending to the living crops in the greenhouse, and tending Poultry.  Noted hard frosting of the Garlic tips on 1/29, might have been reduced with heavy mulch.

Harvesting ? hrs:  Harvested salad from heated greenhouse of 2/24 and estimated potential yield per Sq Ft of .15 pounds (2.5 oz?). 

Handling ? hrs:  Bagged teasan stored from 2009 crops, packing then for sale at the “Slow Food” February Winter Farmers Market at the Tres Piani Restaurant, at Forestal Village.

Marketing ? hrs:  “Slow Food – Winter Farmers Market” at Tres Piani,  yielded $210 for 7 worker hours.  Hopewell market coming back to life slowly, $120-170/week.  Also, weekly deliveries of our eggs to the Bent Spoon.  2/20 MR participated, in Farmer Advisory position, in West Windsor Community Farmers Market (WWCFM) Board Meeting; Topic of note in the log, ‘market management of produce sold at the market, produced on farms other than the Farmer Vendor, or “purchased produce.”  MR encouraged the market to keep an open mind regarding rules regulating this practice, to avoid unnecessary hardship on Farmers.  Ultimately, NSF’s position on “Purchased Produce” being (re)sold by a Farmer, is that all produce sold by a Market Vendor must accurately display the Origin of the Produce, including the Producing Farm Name and State.  MR’s suggestion for Market Management was that all vendors should assent to the Market Manager utilizing a commonly recognized system of stickers to indicated “purchased produce” on Farmer Vendor displays, if the farmer is unable to accurately label the distinction.  This should assist in the resolution of disputes between farmers as well as educate the consumers, and highlight those who are ‘growing their own.’

Special Projects ? hrs:  “House Greens” have been a disappointment, due to poor germination and negligible growth.  We don’t have a handle on why, exactly, the poor G&G, though growing in the winter obviously has its limitations – Low light levels, extreme Low Temps for long periods…  We kept the greenhouse above freezing, with a propane heater from Modine.  Three refills for the winter production effort at an average of $4.50/Gal, cost $1,744.  Estimated Harvesting cost was 8 worker hours @ $30/hr, cost $240.  Assign “cropcare” cost, (2.5 months, $10/week) = Labor, cost, $100.  Gross Cost Est. $2100 + 10% = $2,300 wholesale value for 4 X 120sqft.  Estimated Yield = 70#.  Wholesale Value of Winter Production House Greens :  $33/pound!!  Obviously the wholesale cost drops as you find cheaper ways to heat (as much as $450 propane was probably used later in the spring or $26/pound), use a lower wage calculation and improve the speed of harvesting.  $30/hr for harvesting is utilized to reflect the need for wholesale production to yield more profit off each worker hour, assuming the true cash cost of a worker is $15/hr, assigning a wage calculation of $30 allows the business to make money, while allowing small scale production.  This is the other extreme from our current agricultural production, which produces in massive volume, seeking profit in tiny margins, on ‘unsustainably’ cheap products.  MR worked on coppiced willows, trimming, selecting branches for growth.  Our Specialty Herb Inventory showed Spearmint, Peppermint and Anise Hyssop as remaining.  ‘Tea’ Page created in log but not nearly completed, some notes to follow:  “to date” retail price for our dried Speciality Herbs has been $62.50.  Subtract 35% from retail to yield Wholesale value: $40/pound + Handling.  This is the number MR will use to design our Handling facilities, drying, storing, packing.  Community Health thru Dried and Fresh Herbs!  ‘Getch Your Greens!’

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