Finding Order

IMG_9317Dear Friends,

Another week! I’m always surprised by how quickly time flies once the main season hits. Summer is upon us, with some hot days coming up for the last part of the month. I love and fear this time of year, when the days are long and hot and there’s just so much to do. I dig in my heels sometimes in resistance. But nothing compares with the early mornings and late evenings of summer, especially on either end of a good day’s work. And your farmers strive to make the most of these days by sticking to a schedule. We implemented this schedule about two weeks ago, and we like it very much. You see, with all the changes we’re making around our farm, and with the heavy workload of summer, we felt the need to structure our days. Both Jeremy and I crave order, and the long days with random breaks and eating hours have been too disorganized for us. We also need family time, and having a schedule helps us relax and enjoy our little family. So we created the following:

5:00-6:00 am: Breakfast (and an hour of us-time while Peach is still asleep)

10:30 am: Tea time (because our farm runs on tea, you know)

1:00-2:00 pm: Lunch time

5:00 pm: Happy hour (really)

At this point I settle in for the evening with Peach and Jeremy does a few more hours of work. We take a light supper together and hit the hay between 9 and 10. I’m here to tell you that this schedule has improved our quality of life greatly. The little signposts throughout the day help us be more productive (especially knowing that there’s happy beverage at 5), and it’s good for the baby to have more predictable days anyways. Here’s to finding some order in our madness!

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The Boss surveying the packing shed

In other news, today is the first day EVER that CSA shares were delivered by someone who is not Jeremy! Our new farm worker Deion has taken over Tuesday deliveries, making this the first time in almost four years that Jeremy did not do CSA deliveries. This is a big step from the days when it was just Jeremy running this farm. He was free to work on projects all morning and prepare for the week’s flurry of field work and transplanting. We joke that maybe we could the farm running enough that Jeremy could just be the guy who tidies up and tweaks things around the farm. Or are we joking?

We are figuring things out little by little, and we feel that we’re on the verge of a breakthrough. We’ve had to adapt so much, but we start to get a clearer (if always changing) vision of what kind of farm, and thus what kind of life, we want to have.

Wishing you a cozy week,

Ashli, Jeremy, and Marion

Working It

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Dear Friends,

After a breathlessly hot first week of June, we are in full swing! We’ve got sprinklers going nonstop, shade cloths on all the greenhouses, and we’re furiously preparing beds for a multitude of transplants. And your farmers are working hard as usual to stay on top of everything (see the above picture for what a few hard seasons will do to your clothes, ha). We’ve recently brought on more help, however, and are beginning to be able to pass off more and more tasks to others. It’s a little weird setting someone up doing my usual jobs, like taking care of the tomatoes, but I’m grateful to let go if it means that a job actually gets done (it’s difficult to complete a task with a tiny person around, sometimes simply because she’s distractingly cute).

Last week we began our CSA season with a share of spring favorites like kale, garlic scapes, and mesclun. This week, and probably the next few weeks, will be a little repetitive because we’re behind on seeding and transplanting. Some things just have fallen through the cracks. Not to worry, though, tomatoes, onions, and fingerling potatoes are right around the corner! You just might not have carrots for a couple of months. In the meantime, we’re mostly happy with how our current crops have been turning out, and we hope you are too. Seeing successful crops, like those huge kale bunches (the stuff of my dreams) and spotless mini lettuces, reminds me of how much we’ve learned as farmers. We’re actually becoming better growers by the season, which is encouraging. Our hard work is bearing fruit.

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An integral part of becoming better farmers, for us, has been a willingness to adapt, as we’ve mentioned previously. This year has seen some of the most urgent and intense changes thus far. We unexpectedly started this season with far fewer CSA members than we’ve had in prior years, and had to shift our focus from being a CSA farm to increasing our farm-direct wholesale. Of course, we love doing a CSA and will always strive to provide members with a variety of top-quality produce. We just needed to find the best market for our size of farm and production capacity. So, we’re beginning to specialize in salad greens, mainly mesclun mix but a few other items as well, and this has worked surprisingly well for us. Already we’re doing several hundred pounds a week of bagged and bulk salad items to natural food stores and restaurants! What a change. In many respects we’re a totally different farm than we were a year or even six months ago. We’re taking what the season gives us and working it!

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The Peach turns three months this week. There was a time early on when I thought we would never reach the three-month mark (I stopped counting down the days around two months, when she started cooing. Oh, and when she started sleeping at night). Now Peach smiles constantly, grabs her toes, and keeps tabs on mom and dad from her swing and stroller. I’m thrilled with her, and grateful to have a child who is already so loving and joyful. We carry on together, as a family.

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Have a wonderful, and much cooler, week!

Ashli, Jeremy, and Marion

PS, Thanks to all our members who are utilizing the Facebook group! Keep it up. It’s encouraging for us to see you using your produce and interacting with your fellow members. This is a journey in which we all need one another!

To Farm is to Adapt

Dear Friends,

We hope you enjoyed Jeremy’s interview on the Farmer to Farmer Podcast last week! It was awesome to be featured on such a great podcast and share about our farm.

Many thanks to everyone who rallied around us with supportive and encouraging notes after we shared our struggles in “Hard Times“. We appreciate being able to be honest about hard stuff, and to be heard.

The spring continues to be a crazy ride and we are pushing ahead, scrambling to get our transplants out into the field. The pressure is really on when just one person is doing most of the transplanting, in this case Jeremy. Bit by bit we’re getting things planted. Even though it’s difficult to get a lot of work done, we’re getting more work done than we were. Things are certainly moving, and we’re sure that once summer hits the farm will really be hopping.

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Our situation pushes us to keep improving, to keep adapting. Even if we’ve been more limited in our time, the wheels are turning and the conversation keeps going. In some ways having a newborn in the middle of spring has forced us to work more efficiently and seek improvements on the farm. Lately the conversations between Jeremy and I have been extremely productive. We’re quickly figuring out how to adapt to get more done in less time.

Most of our current discussions have been hashing and rehashing how we can prepare beds, plant, cultivate, and harvest our crops more efficiently. The list of “farm projects” and “tools to buy” seems to lengthen a little during these conversations, but if you view the list as a road map then the future is looking bright.

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In reality, it’s still mostly Jeremy on farm duty, and me on baby duty, but these roles are beginning to cross over and merge, which gives us hope. For the first time this last week we were out transplanting together. As we placed fennel, parsley, and lettuce in the ground it felt really good to be back in the swing of things.

Marion, A.K.A .”The Peach” by her adoring parents, is growing up fast and recently passed  the 10 pound mark on the scale. She has increasingly red hair and is smiling and cooing away between diaper changes and nursing. She has been enjoying a new measure of independence while being put down on a blanket or in her bouncy seat while I hurry to start seeds or fill flats with potting mix.

She loves being outside in the breeze and in the sun. It feels like she is fitting in on the farm already, enjoying her first spring, adapting to her environment.

 

Farmer to Farmer Podcast

This week Jeremy was featured as a guest on the Farmer to Farmer Podcast, our favorite podcast (though, I must admit it is the only podcast we have listened to).

The host, Chris Blanchard, has done a great job interviewing some of the continent’s best farmers and sharing information that has helped us as beginners.

Have a listen and get the inside scoop on what we do at Excelsior Farm

http://www.farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/mueller

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Hard Times

 

Dear Friends,

Spring is always a hectic time for farmers. It’s the heaviest planting time, for one thing; the most transplants go out at this time, as well as many of our direct-sown crops like carrots, beets, radishes, and salad mix. In order to plant at all, however, we need to work the soil and form beds, lay down compost and organic soil amendments, and then do the work of planting. But tilling and bed-forming are best done when the soil is on the dry side, requiring a good stretch of warm, sunny days. Such stretches are hard to come by in the spring in our climate. Once planted, the crops need to be cultivated, which ideally requires similar weather conditions. And seeds continually need to be started and sown throughout the season, and the cycle goes on. You see what a race it can be against time and the elements, always fitting things in here and there when the conditions are right. Oh, and the vegetables need to be harvested, washed, packed, sold and delivered on top of it all.

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This particular spring has been the hardest yet at Excelsior Farm, and indeed one of the hardest times of our lives. Take the above scenario, a typical spring, and throw in having a baby. Our daughter Marion Violet joined us on March 9, just as all our earliest transplants needed to go out, just as we launched our first wholesale orders to natural food stores and restaurants. (We seem to have a knack for terrible timing, having also gotten married in the middle of July a couple seasons back). The first three weeks postpartum have become infamous in Excelsior Farm history. As I was recovering from the rigors of childbirth, Farmer Jeremy shouldered the farm responsibilities by himself working 7 long days a week for over a month. This included sowing, harvesting, washing, packing and delivering orders as well as continuing to work on winter-now-spring projects, and staying on top of regular farm work. All the while I was at home with Marion, breastfeeding around the clock, reflecting on one of the most difficult experiences of my life, and struggling with postpartum depression. A lot of days we felt like we were in a long distance relationship instead of married people.

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What a way to begin a growing season, and parenthood! It is certainly not what we anticipated. But every day brings some kind of small breakthrough, and we are grateful for them. We’re getting more assistance on the farm, both in the form of a part-time employee and kind volunteers. I’m mostly out of the woods in regards to my depression, and physically recovered enough to work on the farm, which feels great. And little Marion gets cuter (and heavier) by the second, and we are starting to feel the joy that comes with having a child.

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This week on the farm we are starting to see some of our “winter” projects take shape.  We are now finishing an additional cooler which will enable us to store more produce during the growing season and extend our season further into the winter. Because of this essential piece of infrastructure we will be able to store enough fresh-harvested and storage produce to offer our first ever winter CSA!

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Another exciting project taking shape is a cultivating toolbar which enables us to cultivate some of the crops we grow with the tractor. This may not sound like an exciting thing to some people but after hoeing 4 miles of garden bed by hand last season we are REALLY excited about this great improvement.

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When we got into farming we knew it would not be easy, and it hasn’t been easy.  It has been hard and we have been hit hard this spring. This is what it takes, and it is what we are willing to give. We are growing food for our community and we are gearing up to kick some ass this season.

Ready, set, go!

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Game face 

Dear Friends,

Winter projects have been rolling along and we’re now essentially at the beginning of spring. All of a sudden the days are longer and lighter, and we feel the anticipation of the main season starting to build. Most folks probably still consider this to be winter, but for farmers it’s just about game time. We’ve already started our first onions and leeks (our new Propagation Station is JUST AWESOME) and have beds of salad mix and spinach starting to grow in the greenhouses. Our garlic is coming up nicely, too, as you can see in the above photo. I love the feeling that this time of year brings–excitement, anticipation of warmth and new growth, and a new season in which to keep learning and developing our skills as farmers.

As you can also see in the above photo, I am growing by the day! I’m now 36 weeks pregnant; our due date is exactly one month from today. This adds greatly to the general anticipation of springtime as we look forward to meeting our child very soon. UPS has been bringing us a steady mix of orders for the farm along with parcels  of baby stuff (just yesterday we got a rad baby swing followed by seeds and a soil blocker today). It is going to be a truly CRAZY year for Excelsior Farm!

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The project update: I used our Propagation Station for the first time last week, and it works wonderfully! I hardly had to think about what I was doing. Having a stationary setup dedicated to starting seeds is going to make the process so much smoother. We can start tons of flats to fill up our new Propagation House, pictured above, which is one of our latest finished (or nearly finished) projects. This prop house is one of our passive hoop houses made over with a heater on a thermostat, circulation fans, and, get this, AUTOMATIC ventilation. Yes, this is a self-regulating house, which means that it will automatically heat or ventilate the house when the temperature goes too low or high above the set temperature, maintaining a consistent temperature for our seedlings. We’re so excited about this, not only for the health of our plants but because it’s way more effective and less annoying for us than opening and closing the house thirty times a day. We really could just stand and watch those vents open and close all day.

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Jeremy moved his shop to the front of the barn just across from the prop station. It’s much more accessible from the field, and now all of the tools we use are in the same part of the barn. We’re both totally thriving on all this organization! Not only is this a better location for the workshop, but moving it allowed us to install a pretty nice farm kitchen in its old place. Because we need to eat, take tea breaks, and wash dishes. We need a pleasant area to stop work and rest if we’re going to be good farmers (and good parents). We’ve learned that taking care of ourselves has to be a priority if this is going to work.

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And things have been working out great! We’re so excited for the upcoming season. We’re bringing in a lot of enthusiasm and gusto and hope for the best season yet!

Remember that sign-ups for our 2016 CSA are well underway! If you have not signed up yet, hesitate no longer and sign up here.

Here’s to an awesome spring!

Your farmers,

Ashli and Jeremy