I just added three bike inspired reviews to the reviews section of the site. They’re also inspired by two of my birthday presents (I had a birthday earlier this month), which in turn were bike inspired. And all of that bike inspiration is partially due to the farm where I’ve been testing out cargo bikes for delivering the produce. I’ll have reviews of those bikes up when I get a chance to finish writing them, along with my thoughts on how bike delivery works for the farm.
Below is a piece of a repost from when I launched my original site back in 2007. This predates the current “very small farm” out on Sauvie Island and is instead referring to the trial grounds in my backyard. Five years later I’m still growing most of those same chicories and enjoying them more than ever. The interest in chicories is definitely growing. NOVIC is going to do variety trials this winter here in the Northwest, and I was just talking to Carol Miles from WSU who is going to be trialing chicories in Washington. The Northwest Agricultural Business Center hosted a season extension workshop in Mt. Vernon two weeks ago that I was fortunate to be invited to present at. Carol, as well as a number of other very experienced growers participated and part of what I showed were my winter CSA shares, grown outside, that rely heavily on chicories to offer a good salad green that can also be cooked in the winter.
My varieties initially came primarily from Seeds From Italy, which has an excellent selection, and very high quality seeds. I’ve recently been getting more seed from Wild Garden Seed. Frank Morton, the breeder at Wild Garden is a friend and another chicory fanatic having been a long time salad greens grower. I think that here in the Northwest we’re still in the early parts of the learning curve in terms of variety selection, best growing practices, and also in developing a solid market. These greens are so good in the winter, although I don’t think they’re great at other times of year. That might limit their appeal to folks who aren’t used to cooking seasonally, but seasonal eating is also starting to catch on a little more. They’re a perfect addition to CSA shares which emphasize seasonality anyway.
Here are my notes from back in 2007
Thursday, December 6, 2007
It’s December and I am completely excited about the outrageously beautiful, and delicious chicories that are growing on the “very small farm” right now. This is a selection of them, two radicchios, a catalogna, a frisse, and an escarole. There are a few more out there that aren’t in the photo, equally beautiful and really flavorful. The cool weather has really mellowed any bitter and most of these aren’t bitter at all. I’ve grown some chicories, and enjoyed them but last year’s trip to Italy was very inspiring, especially an escarole salad we had at a little agritourismo outside of Sienna. So, this year I went a little crazy and decided that I wanted to experiment with a lot of varieties in the fields and preparations in the kitchen. They are a little tricky to grow, but mostly just in the uneveness of maturity and size. In the winter garden this might actually be a real advantage, since things aren’t really growing anyway. It’s a real advantage if they can all be planted in the late summer and then mature over the course of about five or six months, starting in October or November when the summer lettuces are finished. The downside is definitely low yields and lots of rot to dig through, but welcome to winter growing outside.
Here’s another repost and update of one of my most popular requests, instructions on how to build a Lely tine frame for an Allis Chalmers G. There’s also a bit on how to use the implement in there as well. This used to be a PDF but I’ve moved it to HTML to make it faster to load. Follow the link over to the article, or find it under the q&a page.
I apprenticed on a small farm that was run by a farmer who, at that time had been farming for almost as long as I had been living. The farm was an amazing place, a small CSA run by this amazing, generous, eternally positive guy, Andy. It was in the middle of a 1600 acre ranch run by an educational non-profit, and provided some of the backdrop for the farm and wilderness programs there.
Andy knew everyone there, knew seemingly everything about that property, and lived in a little house on the creek at the upper end of the ranch with his wife Carolyn and his two young sons Forrest and Ray. I spent most of my time working on the farm, but what I remember most are the people there, especially Andy. It feels like most of the time I spent with Andy was driving up and down the ranch with him in a Clubcar Carryall II, stopping at the milk house to top off his huge mug of coffee with the cream skimmed off the top of the big milk jugs, and then proceeding to spill half of that coffee on the bumpy dirt road that ran the length of the ranch. The entire time Andy told me stories, mostly farming stories, often the same ones he had told me earlier in the week.
I spent a year there and I was anxious to do the next thing when I left, though sorry to leave many good friends behind. I made sure to come back for visits whenever possible, although those visits got farther apart as the years wore on. Andy was great about keeping in touch and keeping me updated on the happenings at the ranch, and with the family. For a few years we’d meet up at the Eco Farm conference every year and room together which was an opportunity to catch up. The farming connection continued but over time I came to visit more to just see Andy, Carolyn, Forrest and Ray, hear about their trips in the Sierra and what was new on the ranch.
Forrest ended up going to school in Washington and then moving to Portland so Andy would come through every so often and when I got lucky he’d stop for a quick visit. On his last swing through town we were lucky enough to have him bring Carolyn, and Forrest and Forrest’s girlfriend Holly over for dinner.
On Wednesday evening another farmer friend and mentor Michael Ableman, and his son Benjamin, came for a visit on their way down to California. When we got home from a dinner out Tanya checked the messages and there was one from Carolyn telling me that Andy had passed away on Tuesday.
I’ve been thinking about Andy a lot ever since. I’ve also been thinking about all of the other good friends I made, especially the ones I’ve managed to keep in touch with. I also thought about this blog post I wrote back in 2008, coincidentally with both Michael and Andy mentioned. My good friend Dan Gross, who I also met at Hidden Villa said of Andy,
Andy taught me even more about how to talk to people than he did about farming, even though he taught me so much about farming. While I was at Hidden Villa I always felt bad to ask Andy a question because he spent an hour answering it to me. I felt like I was wasting his valuable time when he took all that time to answer me. Now, as I get older, I strive to listen and engage friends and family as Andy did to me.
Andy absolutely set an example I’ve tried to emulate. I’ll miss him every time I think about him, but I’m so happy that I got the chance to work with him, to learn farming from him and so much on top of that.
The following post was about Michael’s farm, but it could just as well have been about Andy’s…
Michael’s Farm – Tuesday, May 6, 2008
My first “formal” farming apprenticeship was ten years ago, 1998. I went to work for Andy Scott at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, California, and spent a year absorbing stories, asking questions, and working hard. It was one of the best years of my life.
A few years later I was at the Ecological Farming Conference, talking with Andy and Jim Nelson from Camp Joy Gardens, a small farm I’ve always really admired. One of us, I don’t remember who, started talking about how great it would be to apprentice on someone else’s farm for a season, just to step back and do the physical work and not worry about all of the details of planning and selling and so on. Everyone agreed, it would be great. I just remember standing there with two farmers who had both been farming for practically as long as I’d been living, both so accomplished and both still engaged in learning more.
It was probably that same year that I met Michael Ableman. He was hosting a monthly discussion series on agricultural topics at Fairview Gardens and I was farming about an hour North. I had been really inspired by his book,From the Good Earth, when a friend at Hidden Villa showed it to me, and subsequently his book On Good Land about his experiences at Fairview.
We’ve run into each other a handful of times since that summer, always with an invitation to come up and visit. Finally this spring I made the time to go visit for a month, help out around the farm, and exchange farming ideas with another farmer who has been at this a couple of decades longer than myself. The result was one of the best months of my life, a chance to temporarily shed all the accumulated layers of responsibility that have built up over the years since my first apprenticeship, and to just focus on learning from someone else’s farm
It ended up being incredibly cold and wet most of the month. There was snow when I arrived in at the beginning of April, and then it snowed and melted, and snowed again. I didn’t mind though, I just enjoyed getting the opportunity to be an apprentice again, to watch and learn from an incredibly accomplished farmer.
In the month I was there we planted an orchard, fixed tillers and tractors, put together new equipment, skidded logs, seeded, covered and uncovered, mapped fields, put down a plan for the whole season on paper, and then changed it all again. We baked bread, ate lots of spinach and carrots, watched Benjamin race down the road on his bike, again and again. We counted and recounted, even when there wasn’t any reason to count. We moved rocks, lots of rocks, we dug holes and filled holes, Such a diversity of work in one month. Such is farming.
So here’s a big thank you to Michael, Anne, Jeanne Marie, Benjamin and Aaron and to all the farmers who have come before me, and after me, and that have been so generous with their time and knowledge. There is such an amazing community of farmers out there and it is truly one of the best parts of farming, that and the scenery.
Continuing with reposts from the original blog, here’s one I made just before leaving Sauvie Island Organics and starting Slow Hand Farm. It’s all still true and it connects with something I was reading last night in Fukuoka’s “One Straw Revolution.” In his chapter “Toward a Do-Nothing Farming” Fukuoka says, ” The usual way to go about developing a method is to ask “How about trying this?” or “How about trying that?” bringing in a variety of techniques one upon the other.” When I talk about farming bringing me a little understanding of how we got where we are today, it’s that layering that I’m talking about.
Fukuoka goes on to explain his approach, which is to ask “How about not doing this? How about not doing that?… Human being with their tampering do something wrong, leave the damage unprepared, and when the adverse results accumulate, work with all of their might to correct them. When their corrective actions appear to be successful, they come to view these measures as splendid accomplishments.”
rye, vetch and fava – November 21, 2007
It’s kind of nice to just sit here and write a little. I’ve had a lot of ideas lately about farming, food, what I want to do. I guess that’s where thinking about the next step will get you. With an imminent departure from the farm, that’s kind of where I’m at right now. Most of my spare time is going to putting together numbers, trying to make crop plans work, trying to write a business plan that makes sense – oh, and trying to find a little paying work as well for the near future. What a lesson in business though.
Farming has been an incredible teacher for me. I feel like I’ve gone through a course in the evolution of civilization that brings me a little understanding of how we got where we are today. Maybe this was all obvious to most of you by the time you made it out of school but I feel like I’m just starting to understand.
After spending the summer putting together little structures around the farm, the incredible details of architecture and the evolution of buildings makes a lot more sense. After spending years producing vegetables on a small scale and looking at improving efficiencies, large scale agriculture, even the decisions that lead to conventional agriculture makes more sense. Trying to put together a business plan for a new farm enterprise makes business, the world of finance, and lawyers make a lot more sense to me.
It all makes more sense how we’ve gotten here, but it doesn’t make me feel like this was necessarily the best path. It’s the place we’re at, so I’ll take it as it is, but there sure are a lot of improvements that could be made. I see decisions that have been made, and reasons why they were made, but I also see the problems that have come out of those decisions and conditions and pitfalls that were ignored along the way.
My life is probably just like that, maybe everyones is but like I said, I’m just figuring these things out now. I’m trying to make the best decisions, predict the future by looking at the present and past and seeing what worked. With a little luck this rye, vetch and fava that has come up beautifully on the farm will, make it through the winter and provide the fertility for next season’s crop.
This was the first blog post when I put up the old slowhandfarm.com blog on October 14, 2007. It also kicks off the start of reposts from that blog, now almost six years after my Terra Madre experience. I’m still in touch with a few of those folks, and I get asked at least once a year when I’m coming back to visit Italy. I hope it will be some day soon.
A Year After Terra Madre – October 14, 2007
Lets start this off with a short little reminiscence of last year’s gathering in Turin – a really incredible, positive experience for me. A year later I’m still thinking about the experience, trying to understand the larger importance of what happened there.
What I remember most from Terra Madre are the people I spent every evening with at dinner, the people I sat on the bus with after breakfast, and the food. I suppose it kind of makes sense, I mean after all, wasn’t that what it was about, people and food? Not only people and food but the communities created around people and food, the ability of food to bring people together, all that is positive and good about food in the world today. That’s really it.
Everyone eats, and everyone is eating food. Not all food is equal though, and not everyone is eating good food. But everyone should be eating good food, I mean food that is produced well, food that is healthy to eat from a nutrition perspective, from a social justice perspective, from an environmental perspective. Food like that brings people together, it doesn’t create problems, it relieves them. All food should be that good. Maybe by trying to produce food like that, by promoting food like that, there can be more events like Terra Madre where people come together, where countries come together to celebrate diversity. I’m sure that my experience there, my little corner of Terra Madre where a small group of us got together and enjoyed good food and good company, was just a reflection of the larger event, and a reflection of what the world could be if we all ate more “good” food.
(update 2/21/2014) I should have put up links to my original trip report. I’m not sure why they didn’t make it in the first time but here they are now (rather big pdfs).
Pretty soon I’ll be up and running here. First up will be revisiting the old posts from the original slowhandfarm.com website which has now changed. There was some good material there and I’ll make sure to bring it back and update where necessary.