2005. Winter has found us working hard to get the
word out about CSA and our farm. Jeanne managed to get a local paper
to do a feature article in the Sunday business section, and I have
had a couple of speaking invitations from community groups. We have
set a goal of 50 members, but are still short—18 as of 3/10/05.
We’re hoping March and April will find people thinking about
gardening and fresh veggies.
Deciding and planning to take on 50 member families and expand
to 2.5 acres has, of course, brought a number of issues to bear
heavy on my mind. Can we find a larger piece of property, say 10-20
acres—where we can practice long crop rotation, continue to
grow our membership and incorporate animals? Can we make that happen
this winter in order to plant there in spring? If we stay at our
current location, what is the best way to deal with the creek bottom
clay that was dumped on the new growing area and spread by bulldozer
last year? How are we going to deal with our need for cold storage,
dry storage, potable water and electricity?
In November we got wind that a newly incorporated town in our area
had applied for funding to restore and develop an 80-acre farm that
had been donated by the aging landowner. We also heard that the
plans included an organic farm and that the person slated to handle
the operation of the farm was moving away because of personal issues.
Sounded like a perfect spot for us. We jumped in the car and checked
out the land—it looked good and was in a great location! We
met with the Township Trustee in charge of the project and found
that the village was not inclined to allow a for-profit venture
on their land. I suppose that makes sense and is not really a surprise.
At that meeting, we also learned something that is much more disturbing
than our personal land acquisition situation; we learned that none
of the townships in our area have designated any land in their village
development plans as agricultural. Will County, Illinois, is home
to some of the finest cropland soils in the world and our city planners
are paving it over at an alarming rate. I know our situation is
not unique, and urban sprawl is a lament on many people’s
lips; we will be keeping our eyes and ears open for opportunities
to express our opinion about the importance of urban farming and
local food production to our local administrators and neighbors.
In December it looked like our landscape contacts were coming through
for us again. Jeanne was working on a project that involved the
installation of a native Illinois prairie. She contacted Doug Short,
a prairie ecologist to consult on the project. As they worked, Jeanne
told Doug of our CSA and, wouldn’t you guess, he knew of a
landowner in the neighboring town of Frankfort who might be interested
in our vegetable adventure. The absentee landowners have 190 acres
that they are interested in preserving as organic farmland and native
prairie. With Doug’s help they have already started prairie
restoration on a 20-acre piece and plan to ultimately restore 40
acres. The balance is farmed in corn and soybeans and is on track
for organic certification in 3 years. We met the landowners just
before Christmas, after which they headed south for the winter.
We communicated some by email and phone and just last week, while
the landowner was in town for a few days, we had a meeting to see
if we could agree on a suitable spot for our vegetable operation.
As it turned out, we came away from the meeting with a realization
that we have a lot more work to do in order to accommodate all the
parties involved, and it is not something we will rush into. We
will split our operation between the two sites for 2005. We will
grow things that do not require immediate refrigeration or a lot
of washing at the Frankfort site while using our current Mokena
location as our home base. Share pickup and storage is more easily
handled from there.
Staying at the Mokena location for the 2005 growing season means
that we will have to deal with the creek bottom clay. The area was
fallow for five years prior to covering, and the landowner has offered
to scrape/push the top layer of clay/soil off with a bulldozer.
I am afraid of the weight of the bulldozer and the danger of working
when it is too wet, so I think I will work with the clay instead.
I just sent a soil sample in and am waiting for results. I am thinking
of growing everything I can as transplants, inoculating with mycorrhizae
and making planting holes a little larger than necessary, then filling
with compost mixed with gypsum, and maybe some rock powders, feeding
the soil with seaweed, fish and molasses and then being ready to
foliar feed with the same throughout the season. I am also contemplating
overwintering radish as a cover crop to open the clay soil. Any
and all comments and suggestions from those of you out there with
more experience would be greatly appreciated--write to me in the
Forums. Nightmares of sickly tomatoes, malformed peppers, and
insect infestations are starting to rumble through my head.
Speaking of crops, I am excited about the giant Excel spreadsheet
I have created to help with crop planning and data collection. I
purchased a set of forms on CD but prefer my own version for now.
For each variety I have captured supplier, product number, package
size and price, quantity ordered, estimated yield, germination rates,
row feet to be planted, in-row spacing, number of succession plantings,
total number of 100’ beds per variety, number of flats needed,
optimum germination temps and (my favorite part) a planting timeline.
The timeline is broken down to weeks of the month and provides information
on what and how many seeds to be planted each week, what and how
many transplants need to go out and when the first harvest is anticipated.
My husband has a laptop computer he is not using, and I plan to
take that to the field with me to collect actual data on site since
I am terrible about transferring data from paper onto the computer
at the end of the day or week.
Our prearranged greenhouse accommodations turned out to be grossly
inadequate, and we have moved the acquisition of a hoop house to
the very top of the wish list. But for now we will again be starting
transplants in the homes. This year we have taken over Jeanne’s
basement and are hanging lights from the rafters and building shelves
with cinder blocks and scrap lumber. I suspect that watering with
fish emulsion will not be well received by the other members of
her household, so maybe we will stick with seaweed and compost tea.
We have taken advantage of a number of educational opportunities
this winter. We attended the Small Farm Trade Show and Conference
in Columbia, Mo.; I found a 16-week Organic Farming night class
at a local community college; and we spent four terrific days in
the Advanced Vegetable Production Workshop at Michael Fields Ag
Institute in East Troy, Wis. We met a wonderful group of fellow
new farmers and had terrific teachers—Richard DeWilde of Harmony
Valley Farm, Steve Pincus of Tipi Produce, and Paul Ehrhardt and
Kay Jensen from JenEhr Family Farm. They were awesome. We were treated
to the culinary expertise of chef extraordinaire Julie Jasinski,
who prepared three meals a day using seasonal produce and meat supplied
by the teachers and MFAI. It was hard to come home to a nearly empty
I am looking forward to getting out into the field again and feel
better equipped for the challenge than ever before. We are developing
a network of fellow farmers and like-minded souls that gives us
the courage to plow ahead.