This season we are hosting an open house at the farm on Saturday May 18th. Mark your calendars, if you want a chance to visit the farm before the season begins. You can tour the seedling greenhouse, ask questions about our membership program, and sign up for a membership if you haven’t already. We’ll have kids activities in our packing shed, and we’ll be kicking off our annual plant sale where you can purchase tomato plants and other vegetable and herb plants for your own garden.
More details coming soon!
As I dig deeper and deeper (pun intended) into soil microbiology, I'm discovering just how interesting, and essential, this facet of life is to a truly organic and sustainable system. In past years I've only had soil biology on the periphery of my mind, aware that it is important, but not actively doing much about it. Sure, we put out compost and occasionally some compost tea, which in theory improves one's soil biology. But in reality? Well, that depends entirely on what microorganisms are actually in the compost and compost tea. So how can we tell what's in the products we apply? LOOK at it. That is, with a microscope.
So learning microscopy has been taking up all my time and focus lately. I’ve fallen behind on newsletters, I've been slow responding to emails, I haven't called my mother in awhile...the list goes on.
Soon enough we'll be working in the greenhouses and then the field. By then, I hope to have a strong grasp of how to look at what's going on in our soils. In fact, it seems almost crazy that most of us farmers don't know how to see what's in our soils. We wouldn't put a blindfold on, walk around the field, and come back and say "I think the veggies are doing pretty well." Of course not. We open our eyes and look at the crops. Likewise, as I look at slides I feel as though a blindfold I didn't even know I was wearing has been taken off. A microscope can open our eyes to seeing our soil's microorganisms and seeing how they are doing. And I intend to keep my eyes wide open this season.
A limerick by Stephanie Bartel
I sit on a cold snowy night
dreaming of summer evenings so bright.
A roaring wood fire,
fills me with desire,
for veggie pizza, a farmer’s delight!
Sign up for a Farm Membership, pay in full by Friday January 25th, and you’ll receive a coupon for a free Old Plank Farm wood-fired veggie pizza this summer!
The two biggest factors determining the success of a farming season are fertility and labor. Without fertility and labor we couldn’t grow vegetables. I’m deep in several books about soil biology right now, gleaning details that can help us in our ongoing quest for healthy and resilient soils at Old Plank Farm. Learning how to better manage microbes like bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and micro-arthropods is high on my winter to-do list. Simultaneously, I am finishing our cover crop seed order, a key piece of the whole fertility management puzzle.
Meanwhile, Angelica has put a lot of thought into our labor needs for the upcoming season. After all, soil protozoa can’t bag the potatoes. That’s where you come in! We loved having working-members join our farm last season, and we hope everyone from last season will join us again this season! Additionally, we want to include a few new options for more working members. Angelica has posted some details on our website’s Work page. Check it out, and pass it along to anyone you know who may want to join our farm and work with us.
If you can’t commit to a full season working member agreement, you may want to join us for the occasional Work Day. If you want a chance to come to the farm once or twice during the season, work 3-4 hours, and receive a discount off the price of your membership, please send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Once we finalize the Work Day options, we’ll send you the details. Work Days will likely be Saturday mornings in June and early July, and will include hand weeding, or picking peas or strawberries. Children are welcome to tag along.
The new year is off to a good start at Old Plank Farm. Better than ever, in a lot of ways. The winter checklists are getting done, and getting done ahead of schedule. Even taxes. That’s never happened before. Pipes haven’t frozen in the kitchen. Pipes have never not frozen here. I’m not suggesting the season will be nothing but smooth sailing. In fact, I know it won’t be. That knowledge is another sign of a good start here.
Some years it seems like farming is nothing more than one fight after another. Farmers fight the weeds, and the bugs, and the big box stores taking over “organic” food sales. We fight the rain, we fight the dry spells, we fight to pay the bills on time. And on and on. Fighting is no good for us or for our farms. The harder we fight, the harder the opponent fights back.
But giving in is not an option, either. We can’t let the weeds take over, or the bugs, or the big box stores. We can’t let the dry spells kill our crops and we can’t let the rain drown our crops. So what other options are there?
Well, we can dance. It takes flexibility, timing, discipline, and passion to choose to dance rather than fight. For instance, if farmers are in tune with the constantly changing needs of their soils and plants, they can grow healthier crops and prevent weeds and pests from becoming aggressive towards them. It takes a lot of practice to learn these moves, but in the long run it’s better than grabbing the spray gun and filling it with pesticides (organic ones or not) to drive away the enemies. When we fight using the spray guns, the bugs come back stronger. When we listen to the underlying needs of the farm and move with rather than against it, the farm gains strength through resiliency.
Good farming practices are like a dance with nature and with everything we are connected to in our communities. It takes a graceful farmer in a lively environment, rather than a soldier in a war-torn one, to grow food worth eating. I can’t claim to be an especially graceful person, but every year I am a more and more graceful farmer. And I believe the food we grow at Old Plank Farm is very much worth eating. I hope you’ll join us in the new year, in a new season of lively eating and healthy living.
by Stephanie Bartel
T'was the night before Christmas, all through the greenhouse,
Just one creature was stirring, it was a fat pesky mouse.
A mouse trap was set by the veggies with care,
In hopes that the pest wouldn't eat all that's there.
The farmers were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of cabbages danced in their heads.
And Beetie in the root cellar in his night cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap.
When by the greenhouse there arose such a clatter,
Beetie rushed outside to see what was the matter.
Through the deep snow he did leap and then dash,
When he got to the greenhouse he threw up the sash.
The moon through the plastic gave off an odd glow
To the carrots and salad that all lay below.
Beetie looked at the roof and what should appear
But a big heavy sleigh and eight grass-fed reindeer.
The little old driver was not very quick,
Reindeer's hooves poking holes had made Beetie sick,
More rapid than radishes Beetie called him by name,
And down from the roof they quickly all came.
"Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Beetie, now Vixen!
These holes in the greenhouse, oh how can we fix 'em?"
"Get the poly-patch tape on the garden shed wall,
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
St. Nick looked for the tape by moonlight from the sky,
When at last it was found a half hour'd gone by.
The carrots were getting cold, now that much he knew,
Farmers should organize their things, he realized too.
He gave the tape to Beetie, who jumped to the roof,
St. Nick watched from below, as if he needed some proof.
The legend of this beet had been told all around,
But seeing him there raised his faith by a bound.
A beet who was brave from his head to his foot,
Who protected Old Plank veggies from smog and from soot.
A bundle of compost he'd fling on his back,
And if a veggie cried out he'd open his pack.
His eyes, they were beady! His smile how merry!
He was healthier than carrots or even a cherry!
Beetie's fresh greens were all bunched in a bow,
Those greens are the healthiest part, don't you know.
Our hero held the poly patch tape in his teeth,
The holes were soon fixed while Santa watched from beneath.
When Beetie was done he slid down on his belly,
The elf caught him before he could splat into jelly!
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly young beet,
St. Nick laughed when he held him from head to his feet!
A wink of Beetie's eye and a twist of his head,
Let St. Nicholas know there's still a task before bed.
Inside the greenhouse, Beetie went straight to work,
Harvesting some carrots; then he turned with a jerk.
They're for the good little children St. Nicholas knows,
He loads his pack heavy then outside he goes!
He sprang to his sleigh, the deer stopped eating thistle.
And away they all flew when he let out a whistle.
But he heard Beetie exclaim, 'ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and eat your veggies this night!"
Happy Holidays from all of us at Old Plank Farm
What we eat passes it's life to us. The more alive it is, the easier it can do this. There is nothing morbid, or scientific, about this. It is intuitive to me that seeking food that once had (or still has) it's own health and vitality in life is the best guarantee for carrying on (or rebuilding) our own health and vitality. It's certainly a better guarantee than the USDA Organic label stamped on all sorts of processed, long-dead foods these days.
I'm not suggesting, in our quest for health, that it's a bad idea to seek out organic food. But the term organic that's used today has lost a lot of it's value, as has the food under it's label, now that it's been so heavily commercialized. There are all kinds of USDA Organic foods that I wouldn't touch with a 39-1/2 foot pole, if my goal was to eat something organic. I'm not going to contest the USDA--at least not right this minute--but it's worth thinking about. Cornucopia is an Institute here in Wisconsin that does a fabulous job pointing out flaws in commercial organics, especially in regards to mock organics in livestock production. At best, commercially available organic brands tend to follow the letter of the organic law, but not the spirit.
So if we want organic food full of spirit, the next place we may look is at local food. In our quest for health, local food often holds as much or more organic value than USDA Organics on the grocery shelves, even if it doesn't have the USDA label. All you need to do is talk to a local producer to learn if they are using organic methods. Old Plank Farm is among the local farms that easily meets USDA standards, but does not carry the organic certification the government offers.
But here again, local food can miss the mark as often as organic food does, if we’re focusing on eating foods full of health and vitality. I'm a fan of local donuts at the farmer's market as much as the next person, but we're not fooling anyone if we think that's helping us on our healthy food quest. And if you live next to the Hershey's Chocolate factory, then local food probably isn't your best option.
The holy grail of health can be found in the lowly, living vegetable, straight out of the organic garden, preferably with a little dirt still clinging to it. Vegetables are particularly well equipped to pass their life force straight to us because we can eat them when they are still alive.
This is a fairly unique quality that vegetables possess. For instance, it would be quite a bother to try to get a live chicken (even a local, organic one) onto your dinner plate, let alone into your mouth, without causing trauma to either the chicken or you. Or consider Christmas dinner with a turkey at the table. As if it's not hard enough to have in-laws, grandparents and a horde of wild cousins all in the same room. Add a live turkey and you'll wind up with a dining room that looks like Clark Griswold's in the movie "Christmas Vacation" after the dog fails to catch the runaway squirrel. So it would seem best to continue cooking our poultry, for everyone’s sake.
Vegetables, on the other hand, are so much more agreeable at the dinner table. No feathers, no feet, no fuss. And the more alive, the better.