The Good Food Co-Op interview:

Howdy Ranch Fans, whats the good word?

We got interviewed the other day. Colin, the fella in charge of the interview sent me some questions and I did my best to provide good answers and a casual conversational reply. Its always fun to walk people around the Farm, but the Farm in winter is a different animal, it’s bones show. Anyway, thats another topic for another day. Here was my reply to Colin:

What got us started in farming? Well we moved to a farm. Not quite that simple and not all at the same time. This was my Grandparents farm, my Grandfather grew up in Palouse and so did my Dad, this is “The Family Farm” .  My younger brother and I spent summers here playing in the bluegrass fields and eating fruits and vegetables right out of the garden.  After my Grandfather died, the farm was rented out, the blue grass became conventional dry land grain, the gardens died and the fruit trees went wild.  It was a lot for my Mom to handle by herself, so I decided to move here in 2003 to lend a hand. I guess we feel like its our responsibility to grow food, if you have a farm it should be productive, not just a place to park some horses. 

The farm is ten acres, just about the perfect size to keep the both of us busy all the time, but not so big that any one task gets tedious. Its perfect.

Our growing season Starts in January, in the back room of the greenhouse with seeded flats on heat matts. Onions are the first, once they are up and rolling we put them in the main room of the greenhouse. They can take a freeze at that point and sometimes it does freeze in there. Then come the herbs, followed by tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Early spring there is no room left at the inn and we start moving things out into the caterpillar tunnels. We don’t stop utilizing the greenhouse for starts until its just too hot for anything at all to grow, even with the shade cloth and the sides open its gets rocket hot. Perfect for the date palm we started from seed but that’s about it. Its hard to say when the season is over, I guess its when the garlic has been planted in the fall. Right now still have snow peas in the raised beds that refuse to throw in the towel, a few beets that the deer are browsing and a small showing of greens in one of the caterpillar tunnels. Eventually we will tie the plastic up on the tunnels and let everything freeze. The farm deserves that break we think, a good solid freeze helps it reset.

The nice thing about living where you work is that you are always there. Pull on your boots and step outside, it’s the shortest commute to work I have ever had.  There are set chores that have to be done, the sheep need to be fed, the ducks have to be let out, depending on the time of the season the sides of the tunnels need to be opened up. The farm drives the chore list, the farm will tell you what needs to happen, but we also like to just walk the fence line and let the dog run laps.  At the end of the day the sheep are brought back in, the ducks are secured and the side of the tunnels rolled back down and we might walk the fence line one more time before we flop down in deck chairs at the top of the hill and watch the light.

We read a book a few years back called “The Dirty Life” it’s about a gal and her husband who bought a farm and when they were trying to decide what to grow, a neighbor suggested that they “grow what you like to eat…” It was good advice and we try to stick with that ourselves, we also simplified it a bit. We grow what we know grows well, we might experiment a little, one season we grew okra, neither of us had ever eaten okra, turns out we like okra, everybody else at market liked it too and word spread like wildfire, we had a waiting list and it made us wish we had planted more. We have done this long enough to know what varieties work well for us on our particular farm in our growing season and we know what the patrons of the food pantries like to see.  Our efforts are spread out evenly, we look at the farm as a living organism, we don’t make any one thing more important than the other, “lots of eggs, lots of baskets”, this makes losing a crop easier to absorb. Mostly we grow the Standards “classic vegetables from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s”, from as much saved seed as we can. We are also planting into ever-expanding perianal rows; canes, trees, shrubs and vines.  

We raise sheep for fun and profit…neither of which have actually materialized.  I love that joke, I think I’m the only one. We have a small flock of Icelandic sheep.  At one point I think we had about twenty of the wooly boogers and that was about nineteen more than I was interested in shearing or butchering. Right now we have seven, by the time this is printed we will be down to four, I like those odds a lot better.  I really do like the sheep and they are a very important part of the farm. We have a small gang of ducks they are a new addition, we have raised chickens in the past, pigs too, had a couple of goats and at one point a heifer calf. We have settled on sheep because they are about the right size for our pasture, hay ground and freezer.  The jury is still out on the ducks, I like them better than chickens, but the chickens didn’t set the bar very high.

The talk of animals leads right into our farming practices, this is a biodynamic farm and we were biodynamic farmers before we even knew what that was.  The only thing we spray is compost tea, we pull weeds and hand pick bugs. Most of or inputs come from the farm in the form of compost.  We have worm bins for compost tea and the rest of our compost is in giant steaming piles down by the barn, we compost everything.  Right now there is a hot pile that is growing volunteer tomatoes, mushrooms and wheat.  One of my favorite things is turning the compost with the tractor and being enveloped in steam.  It takes about a year for it to fully finish out, it’s a labor of love, that sometimes smells really really bad. We use some fish based starter fertilizer, sometimes we will spread dried kelp or bone meal, but we have been most impressed with the compost tea. The farm seems to like it. Really the most important thing that we do for the health of the farm is to do nothing. We don’t panic anymore when we see a bunch of aphids, we know that predator insects will be along shortly to handle the problem, sure we might lose a bit but in the end you have to have some bad bugs in order to have good bugs. We just interplant enough habitat for predator bugs to overwinter we have enough plants blooming all season to encourage them to stick around.        

 Growing for the food pantries has kept us pretty busy but we have decided to offer a CSA this season, I don’t know if it will get any traction or not but we have a farm store and we do an afternoon market so pick up is pretty easy and we feel like we have a nice variety of farm goods, I don’t know, I guess we will see how it goes. Whats the worst than can happen?  Other than a run on sentence.

We are inspired by a few people. I get inspired by books, I think the single most inspiring book I have read as it relates to small scale farming in this day and age is Mark Sundeens, “The Unsettlers” the farmers he interviews for the book, their stories are just humbling. I don’t recommend books very often and I never mark up a book with a high liter…until this book.  I make people read it. The actual people that inspire me the most, the people that I know, I think my Mom would agree with me on this too, Greg and Leah Simple. They are some of the finest human beings I know.  Then of course there are the Food Pantries, Paige Collins is a force of nature and we are forever grateful that she literally cornered us and made us grow for the food pantries. If there is anybody out there that has ever been able to say “no” to Paige let me know how you did it. We all want to live meaningful lives right? Well having a farm has always made me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself, growing for the pantries, providing the freshest most nutrient dense produce we possibly can for the people that we feel need it the most, that is pretty meaningful.  It isn’t about the community supporting us, its about our farm supporting the community.

Ah, plans for the future.  We really would like a milk cow and raise a pig every year, it’s a biodynamic thing. We would like to get a grain rotation established, I feel like in a few more years we should have enough landrace wheat set aside to seed the field, put oats into the rotation as well, then maybe an oil seed. We would like to build a commercial kitchen to compliment the farm store, I would also like to get a wind generator to compliment the solar array.

The future of farming is promising, more and more people are demanding healthy food. The University of Idahos  Soil Stewards Farm was recently certified organic and of course Brad has WSUs organic farm, so both the Universities are promoting and teaching up and coming farmers. Land access I feel will always be the biggest hurdle in this area, land access coupled with a short growing season is a tough one. I dont know how you fix that.

Covid hasn’t really set us back, I have been self isolating for almost twenty years now, just kidding… sort of. There were some seed supply shortages, that alone prompted us to take our seed saving practices to a higher level.  Mostly what we need is right here on the farm. The fires have left a seedling shortage, we usually plant hundreds of trees every year, but this time around most of the seedlings from the Pitkin nursery were spoken for. All things being said, last year was one of the best seasons we have had, the hay was pretty heavy and came in without a hitch, the heat loving stuff grew like the Dickens. Oh…this gang of red winged blackbirds ate almost all of our corn. They were pretty relentless about it. Coulda been worse.

I look at the co-op as a collective.  I think the biggest blow to farming is looking at it from a capitalist viewpoint. A farm is a living organism not a factory. Farming is a lifestyle.  I always say the secret to farming is to be present, you need to be there, you need to be watching and listening. The farm can be very patient and very forgiving but you need to give a bit of yourself to it. You need to understand what is really going on, we are just a small part of the collective organism, we turn on the water, we plant the seeds, we give the farm gentle direction and the farm takes care of us all. So all of that is to say I look at the Good Food Co-Op as a collective of like minded farmers  that want to provide responsibly grown food to people who really want responsibly grown food. We are all in this together. 

Theme music, fade to black, roll credits.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: