NEW FARMER JOURNAL: Fresh Harvest Farm, Mokena IL

A process of inquiry
This new farmer finds that every new lesson leads to a dozen more questions.

By Patty McPhillips

Seedlings on schedule


Fresh Harvest Farm
Mokena, Illinois

Farmers: Patty McPhillips and Jeanne Phelan

First season: 2004

What they raise: Mixed vegetables, herbs

Location: South Chicago suburb

Marketing strategies: farmers’ market, farm stand, considering a CSA

Jeanne Phelan and Patty McPhillips

April, 2005. We are right on schedule with our seedlings. We have cabbage, broccoli, onions, snapdragons, thyme (poor germination on the orange and summer thyme – don’t know why) parsley, brussel sprouts, some eggplant, lettuce, and a few hot peppers. Have been using a soil drench of compost tea, seaweed and molasses once a week and I’m happy with the results. We plan to put the broccoli and cabbage out in the field next week so they have been hardening off outside already and are looking fine.

We are up to 25 members, 50 is our target…and it sure seems an awful long way away. I am scheduled to talk about CSA at a Council for Working Women meeting on Thursday and hope to find a couple of interested folks there. We are working on a marketing piece to be distributed to the attendees of a Moms ‘N Tots program at a local park district. I discovered that a William Sonoma has just opened in a mall near my house and am trying to get the guts up to talk with their manager about promoting CSA to cooking demonstration attendees – I haven’t got that squared away in my head yet, though, and don’t feel comfortable enough to act. However, without 50 members I don’t think we can justify the purchase of a hoop house (I really want a hoop house!), so I will probably find myself in William Sonoma before long. We are talking about the farm at every opportunity, hoping to get folks interested.

We got out into the field for the first real day of work on Wednesday, March 30 and it was wonderful. The day was gorgeous, sunny and about 65 degrees, but very windy. The weather channel was tracking a strong storm front out West and predicting its arrival in Mokena for early that evening; they were right on the money. We got three beds in the “old” field cleaned up and 400 feet of shelling peas planted and covered with Reemay to protect them from potential driving rains.

The peas are being planted where the onions were last year. We had spread old hay over those beds since it was too late to get a cover crop going by the time we harvested the onions. (Since then I have learned about under-sowing late crops and plan to make use of this logical idea in the coming season.) The soil in these beds is the nicest in the whole “old field,” loose and easy to work with. My plan on Wednesday was to avoid rototilling and disturbing the soil life. I thought I would be able to cut right through the hay and plant. Instead, we found that some type of cool season grass had sprouted from the hay, so some sort of tilling was necessary. One of the big purchases over the winter was a wheel cultivator; we used it with the moldboard plow attachment to make short order of the grass. It worked good but left things kind of lumpy. I forgot how frustrating the Earthway Seeder can be when working with soils that are “kind of lumpy,” but it all came back quickly as I headed down that first 100-foot row. A few expletives and some foot-stomping later, Jean suggested using the furrower attachment on the wheel cultivator first and then coming back with the seeder. That worked pretty darn good, and the peas got planted. We also used the mold board plow on the wheel cultivator to make a nice trench for the row cover, and that worked well too. Everything was snugged down tight and ready when the storm hit. It turned out that we only got about 1/4 inch of rain, so all that work was probably unnecessary, but maybe it will help warm the soil a little to speed germination. Another 400 feet of shelling peas are scheduled for next week along with 200 feet each of snap and snow peas.

Well, the sun is shining and I noticed the rhubarb in my home garden is poking up, so I think I will head out to the yard and divide it. I planted a dozen new plants last year and would like to offer it to our members next year –how many plants will I need? Where can I put them until we find a permanent location for the farm? I wonder if Jeanne has any room? Is it too late to order more from Johnny’s? Will these questions ever end?