Category Archives: Community Supported Agriculture

Farm News and Reflections

Received a wonderful donation of a beautifully crafted nesting boxes from Burning Barn Farm for our new coop in New York. I was so excited, I completely spaced on taking a photo!

This week has been dedicated to work on cleaning at the farm in preparation for our departure. Lot’s of reflection, and honestly, loads of relief. It’s simply been too much for us to manage a project like DeYoung at a distance. And as much as I love the farm, I know it will find the right person or organization to make it great again.

We breathed life into the barns with the addition of chickens, ducks, sheep and alpacas, but the farm really breathed new life into us. We are now embarking on the first leg of a journey to open a fiber mill and tree nursery in New York state.

Many people have asked us about the departure date. It’s been tough to answer because we’ve been moving belongings out ahead of the big move, so many trips back and forth right now. Tentatively, we should officially be NYers by June 14th.

In the meantime, please enjoy some of our favorite photos from the past four years.

Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

photo 5
Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

Something from Nothing

DSC_0026Ten years ago, I was living in the rural outskirts of Traverse City, building garden beds as a leisurely summer activity with my three toddlers. I could never have imagined how much my life would change in the coming decade. By the end of that summer, I began feeling ill with trouble breathing and nightmares about dying. In September of that year I was diagnosed with an aggressive lymphoma and began immediate treatments, lasting into the following year.

Little did I realize that a single event, a phone call that I picked up while standing at the kitchen counter, in which a surgeon very plainly announced the diagnosis with little emotion in his voice, that my life as a farmer would truly begin. Not out of a desire to farm, specifically (although I have always wanted this life), but out of a need to find answers; alternatives to biocides used in fruit production.

This morning, I looked out at the calm waters of Lake Michigan and the sunlight spilling
over the hilltop through the windows, and felt my heart swell for the little apple whips beginning their first full season as individual trees. These trees represent so much more than the salvation of a single apple variety. They photo 4 (1)are also the culmination of a decade’s long effort toward restorative agriculture. Progressing toward a desire to save not only rare apples, but also to satisfy my own desire to see my children play among the orchard trees the way I once did as a child, but free from the worry of toxins.

Farmers, generally, whether they spray or use alternative growing methods, are some of the best people I’ve ever known. And this little travelling orchard is representative of not only my hope for the future, but of my admiration for my fellow farmers. I know the struggles we each endure regularly, the set-backs and failures that make this business challenging, and the pioneering spirit that keeps it all moving forward. Because this business of growing is as much about growing food as it is growing from within.

Hobbits, Unicorns, and a Cow Goddess

I just returned from another trip out to New York, this time to explore the Schoharie valley and Delaware County. This trip, thanks to the farmers who housed me, really invigorated me.  I think I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from farming, despite the daily regimen because we’re currently partially uprooted. Being on a farm started by a woman and witnessing the incredible foundation she has built, along with the connectivity she fosters with neighboring farms, has really inspired me not to “begin again,” but to continue with this mission forward to build a farm and fiber business.

photo 2 (3)
Isadora, the Adorable

The farm where I stayed (had to make this trip out alone so Chris could tend to the alpacas), is technically East Branch Farm, but most of the locals know it as Straight Out of the Ground, a beautiful property with a goddess of a guernsey cow, who is the apple of Farmer Madalyn’s eye, for sure. And it’s easy to see why. Look at that adorable face!

In addition to farming, Madalyn also co-produces a radio show called the Farm Hour Radio.

The mountains are nothing short of magical. The roadways and farmland trace their contours, and in the mornings, mist hovers over the valleys, leading me to look for hobbits and unicorns as much as farmland.

Madalyn connected us with some good folks and resources for farmers and reinforced the awareness that New York is a good state for agriculture. Beneath every county sign I passed, the words “Right to Farm” appeared prominently. The soil in the valleys appears good and the prospect of a fiber mill feels welcomed.

photo 1 (2)Moreover, the locals are fiercely loyal to their agricultural roots and at one stop, in a village where we had been told we could not house our alpacas, a local business owner stormed down to the local village office and demanded to see the ordinance. When the village couldn’t provide any specific wording ruling against alpacas, she called me and said, “You can have your livestock here.” Can’t help but love these folks.

I would like to say we have figured this whole thing out, but after an inspection revealed some significant issues on the house we were under contract to buy, we are once again looking for the farm. However, despite this setback, I feel more confident than ever that we’ll find the right place, because more significant than where we will land is that feeling of where we belong. And it’s there, among the mountains and the hard-working farmers of the Schoharie, where we feel most at home. Looking forward to calling this place home.

Last trip out, we traversed Sharon Springs, where an inspiring couple revitalized a farm into an enterprising business. Madalyn told us it’s not only a thriving business, but they even had a television show. Check it out below. Also, living in the region, a woman I look forward to meeting at some point in the near future, Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. And so much more I would like to share, save for the time to write it all down…

If you don’t know them already, the Beekman Boys are fabulous.

Begin again with the Beekman Boys:

Three Ethics, 12 Principles, a chicken, and an apple tree… and Zone 00

Permaculture is an integrative system design approach inspired by highly evolved, productive ecosystems. It’s not simply a spiral herb bed or layer composting, but about interactions that take place within the soil and bio-web within a space, and how those interactions relate to place, time, other elements within the garden, people building the system, neighboring community, wildlife, and the ecosystem surrounding the garden space. That makes not only for a dynamic food forest system, but also for some pretty dynamic external thought processes, and hopefully, a huge amount of introspection.

There are plenty of designs out there that are “permaculture inspired,” but permaculture, as described through the principles, is a process, not simply an implementation of design. When someone says (or when we say to ourselves), “I want a permaculture…,” we, as designers, have to pull back and examine the, “I want.”

While Zone 0 is centered on the place where we spend the majority of our time, Zone 00 represents intentions, ego, learned knowledge, intuition, dreams, etc. It envelopes all things us. And while most of us have no problem evaluating our zones and sectors during the design process, we’re not often asked to look within; to take time to observe our intentions within a space; to keep our ego in check and hold our designs accountable.

That would take time. RealTree-white-BG time.

And time is something our egos fight against in favor of immediate gratification. So, rather than work against ego, we need to inquire about the urgency. Is there a need that is essential and must be met? Or are we eager to see a certain tree planted, so we can enjoy the fruits as soon as we are able? Working with this sense of urgency, we can loop back around to those useful elements of the existing landscape, and highlight areas that must be addressed. Take one step forward, then look back and see how the system responds. Short, concise feedback loops.

While in appearance, working from Zone 00 out appears to take longer, in the long run, it requires fewer additional inputs and results in a system well-suited for participants, whether a helpful microbe in the soil, a cedar waxwing perched on the branch of an apple tree, or you, the budding permaculturalist seeking a better way of living. In reality, permaculture is a philosophy that doesn’t just work externally. When examining a site, we ask ourselves why certain plants and animals are thriving within that environment; it’s time to seek the same answers from within.

 

An awakening

IMG_0178You’d think after two weeks of constant planning; my whole life revolving around weather reports and apple tree dormancy, I’d want nothing to do with the farm today. The sheep and chickens had been watered and fed. There were no immediate necessities to be addressed. And yet, I found myself packing up the toddler with only the eager anticipation of finding a few buds on an equally few trees beginning to swell.

{The thing I had spent so many weeks worrying would come too soon – this awakening – now the very thing I so eagerly hope to see.}

We walked to the far corner of the farthest orchard and wound our way, tree to tree, down slope and back up again. We stopped at every curious sight a toddler can discover and listened to frogs, birds, the whisper of rushes, the melody of the stream.

Looking back, I saw the many small branches reaching upward; bending and stretching skyward as if to celebrate alongside us. Each tree a memory of a time spent at the farm in these past few weeks with friends, family, myself in quiet contemplation. Each tree in partnership with an unassuming vision of what it means to be in this place. Each tree starlight helping the observer feel so very tiny and all at once whole again.

We walked back to the farmstead and sat beside the fence to watch the sheep. Chris called. “Are you guys at the farm? I might join you.”

“We can come home now, if you’d rather,” I offer.

“No, I just have a need to be there,” he says.

I smile, knowingly.

Healing the Tree: the Science Behind Plant Distress Signals

Apple trees do not suffer in silence. The other day, my husband called from the farm to tell me one of our apples had been badly damaged by rodents. Before asking, I was certain I knew which tree. Last summer, when selling our house, I had transplanted three healthy apples out of dormancy (a horticultural and pomological no-no).

Two of the trees went into healthy soil, and suffered very waxhealingtreelittle. The third tree, my personal favorite, I planted at a point that represents the entrance to the future orchard. The soil in that spot had been tilled and was badly depleted, but I nursed the tree along with high hopes. I pinned this hope on the fact that the tree was a highly disease-resistant Liberty on standard root-stock.

“The Liberty?”

It was. The sweet disease-resistant apple had taken yet another hit from an impressive rodent population living at the farm. Having already suffered through intense winter cold and heavy snowfall, it was no surprise that the tree had attracted the attention of some common orchard grazers. I knew this, not because I understood the science, but because it’s a pattern repeated in nature. Even predatory animals hunt the weaker of the herd.

The Science Behind the Pattern

It turns out, the scientific community has long been interested in the phenomenon of trees and plants putting out distress signals. A more recent study conducted by the Netherlands Institute of Ecology concluded plants and trees emit an odor that attracts predatory insects and birds to help ward off infestation or future attacks long enough for the tree to heal.

According to the journal article published in Ecology Letters, scientists examined apple trees specifically, and found that damaged or insect-ravaged trees attracted more birds than their healthy neighbors.

The journal article abstract concludes:

Birds were attracted to infested trees, even when they could not see the larvae or their feeding damage. We furthermore show that infested and uninfested trees differ in volatile emissions and visual characteristics. Finally, we show, for the first time, that birds smell which tree is infested with their prey based on differences in volatile profiles emitted by infested and uninfested trees. Volatiles emitted by plants in response to herbivory by lepidopteran larvae thus not only attract predatory insects but also vertebrate predators.

Scientists hope to apply their research to developing better (and natural) pest management strategies in commercial orchards.

In the meantime, I’ve treated the tree with a small amount of honey, some cinnamon (a natural insect and deer deterrent), and wax tape, affording the Liberty a little time to heal and a good bit of hope.