Free Farm Consulting

Are you a small farm owner in Mendocino County? Did you know that Adam can give you farm technical assistance for free? That’s right! Usually, consultants charge at least $50.00/hour, but through West Company’s ‘Strengthening CSAs by Building Capacity and Expanding Markets Program,’ farmers can pick Adam’s brain and get technical advice for free.

If you know a farmer who is looking for assistance but cannot afford the typical consulting fees, please let them know about this FREE FARM CONSULTING.

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Time and time again, the logistics of getting our meats to market is a challenge. We’ve blogged before about the challenges in navigating the lack of local meat processing to meet (meat!) the needs of our various customers. As the farm shifts toward more meat production as a main enterprise for revenue, we find ourselves relying a lot more on these outsourced services – the slaughterhouses, cut-and-wrap facilities, and smokehouses. This can get a little scary, as those other businesses are in one sense another factor that is out of our control. We used to outsource meat deliveries, and earlier this year, the company unexpectedly dropped doing deliveries for numerous ranches, which at one point we thought would end our business. It was not because of anything we had done (the company was just overwhelmed by demand for their services), and fortunately, we were able to build the capacity to fulfill that service ourselves (borrowed money and bought a refrigerated delivery van).

So when it comes to customer service and delivering your product as and when desired, it can get a little hairy being so dependent on others. We will probably never own and operate our own slaughterhouse and cut-and-wrap facility or smokehouse, so how do we maintain a good reputation with our customers when these intermediary businesses don’t come through to fulfill their promise? There are very few of these facilities, so we have no choice but to continue using them.

Anything can go wrong. Everything from not delivering our meats back when promised and a retailer is hoping to get our product on their shelves that week, to cutting the bacon thick instead of thin, or to not cutting all the bacon we asked for thus not fulfilling an order. Every time that happens, we risk losing that customer to another producer, usually a larger non-local producer who has centralized all these processes. The logistics to get our meats into food safe and pretty packages are so complicated; one place has a wait of 2 months before we can get anything cut and wrapped by them. It feels even more complicated and difficult when a promise is not delivered on, and our end buyer sees it as an unfulfilled promise by us. It is also a reason why we prefer to work with customers who are able to take whole carcasses, taking away that extra processing step.

The buyers/partners that we have a long relationship with have been understanding with us in the past, but it requires a lot more energy in getting those communication flows in place with the trust. We feel very fortunate to work with places like Bar Agricole, Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op, and Westside Renaissance Market who have an openness to understand the challenges we face and have the leeway for the unexpected. It seems that they see that as a small sacrifice to pay for delicious, healthy meats, and we are eager to find more folks who share these values!

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deboning leg of lamb and cooking up a feast with chard, potatoes, and figs

November Weekend

Many people often ask us what a typical day at the farm is. Usually, we chuckle and proceed to explain that there is no such thing as “a typical day of the farm.” Just as we don’t have a 9-to-5 job in an office, as farmers, we accept that farming as a vocation is a lifestyle, not a job. It’s a professional career full of surprises and spontaneity, as well as flexibility and patience.

Now that we are in November and the Vegetable CSA season has ended, there is a sense of relief on the farm. We’re not necessarily more relaxed – we still have lots of bills to pay – but we’ve experienced a shift in the season and the direction we are headed. We now have more time to analyze our finances and improve our business management. Lots of construction projects are happening, including small things, like bins for winter squash and shelves for the toolshed. And we’re making holiday plans and taking steps to stay healthy during the cold and flu season. This was our November weekend on the farm:

We finally butchered our roosters. Our egg laying hens are more relaxed and happy now.

We finally butchered our roosters. Our egg laying hens are more relaxed and happy now.

After butchering the roosters, we made about 2 gallons of chicken stock. This is the good stuff!

After butchering the roosters, we made about 2 gallons of chicken stock. This is the good stuff! No cold or flu can beat us now.

It's important to take time to appreciate the wildlife on the farm. Many more waterfowl have moved into the big pond.

It’s important to take time to appreciate the wildlife on the farm. Many more waterfowl have moved into the big pond.

 

random pig

We still have chores on the weekend, like feeding and watering the livestock. The pigs were running so quickly, it was hard to get a good photo from this side of the fence…

While the Golden Vineyards crew are off on Sunday, we can borrow the tractor. This is the future fruit orchard and table grape vineyard getting subsoiled.

While the Golden Vineyards crew are off on Sunday, we can borrow the tractor. This is the future fruit orchard and table grape vineyard getting subsoiled.

We must remember to eat our greens! Lovin' Mama Farm salad mix with our beets made a delicious lunch. Homemade pumpkin pie (our pumpkins & wheat flour of course) was finished before the end of the weekend.

We must remember to eat our greens! Lovin’ Mama Farm salad mix with our beets made a delicious lunch. Homemade pumpkin pie (our pumpkins, eggs & wheat flour of course) was finished before the end of the weekend.

Mendocino Organics Vegetable CSA – Tuesday, September 24

In Your Share This Week

  • Melons
  • Dino Kale
  • Curly Kale
  • Pie Pumpkin
  • Hubbard Squash

As the main growing season winds down, and the days are much shorter, we’ve been surprised with this very warm, dry weather. We’ve had quite a few freezes in Potter Valley now, which has ended the fragile summer crops and killed the aphids. We have been keeping the melons under protective row cover, so we’re still able to enjoy the fruity juiciness these hot afternoons. Honeydew melon is packed with Vitamin C, so enjoy!

We also have an onslaught of winter squash and pie pumpkins. There are so many varieties of winter squash, it’s sometimes hard to choose what to plant. Hokkaido Stella Blue Hubbard Squash keeps for a very long time – as in months – on your kitchen counter or in the garage. It has an orange, flakey flesh and can be enjoyed in soups or as roasted. Here’s more about storing and using hubbards: http://www.finecooking.com/item/5903/hubbard-squash

Are you feeling overrun by fresh, nutritious cooking greens? We found this revival version of Kale and Quinoa Pilafhttp://food52.com/recipes/2434-one-pot-kale-and-quinoa-pilaf

As next week is the last Main Season Vegetable CSA distribution, we want to send you off with a bounty of storable winter squash – so when we really hit chilly fall and winter, you can continue to be nourished with local food. Plan to grab as much as you want at next week’s distribution. If you want 100 lb or so, let us know, and you can come by the ranch to pick it up. We definitely have enough for everyone to take that much!

Butternut Squash, one of the most popular winter squashes, is extremely versatile. Enjoy it cubed or sliced roasted, pureed for soup, or mashed for casseroles, breads or muffins. Our favorite home cook, Martha Stewart, might inspire you with these recipes: http://www.marthastewart.com/275653/butternut-squash-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide#214499

We mentioned the Hubbard Squash above and Pie Pumpkins last newsletter. Here are Martha’s pie pumpkin basics and recipes http://www.marthastewart.com/274288/pumpkin-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide

Spaghetti Squash does not keep as long as the other squashes. It produced very well this year and is a fun substitute for spaghetti pasta. If you’re new to Spaghetti Squash or want some new ideas on what to do with it, Martha has tips for it, too:

http://www.marthastewart.com/275670/spaghetti-squash-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide
We have a bit more of Acorn Squash, too. http://www.marthastewart.com/275063/acorn-squash-recipes/@center/276955/seasonal-produce-recipe-guide

So, be sure to bring a box or two and are able to cart home your winter squash next week!

Notes from the Field

The Maize Harvest Party a couple weeks ago was a delicious and fun success, just as we had hoped. All the corn is harvested and in the corn crib at Heart Arrow Ranch. Let us know if you want to order corn or join The Corn Crib as a Corn CSA member. Corn will be available starting in January 2014.

All of the winter squash is getting taken out of the field, and we are generally wrapping up the main growing season. This warm weather has been wonderful for getting winter crops going, before the days are too short for anything to grow. However, we could really use some rain. The light rain earlier this month has helped the rangeland grasses to start, but we need more. Like some other local ranchers, we are already dipping into our hay stores to keep our cattle and sheep fed. The sheep livestock barn and pig farrowing pens are completed now, and sometime soon, a solar system installation person is coming to start work. The handling facilities for our cattle have been drawn out, and a flat pad has been scraped in preparation of building them. We are raising a relatively small herd of cattle (less than 30 cows), so our facilities are simple, and we have referenced Temple Grandin’s humane handling facility designs.

We are working with Rainbow Ag in Ukiah to design the irrigation system for the new fruit orchard and table grape vineyard at Heart Arrow Ranch. And if you have come by the ranch lately, you will have noticed that our landlord is well into renovating (i.e. tearing down half and building anew) the tractor shop. The shop is where our office and meat freezers are located, so we will have to move out temporarily sometime this fall/winter until the building is complete. Along with enlarging the machine shop, there will be an entertainment space and kitchen added. So, while we are stepping away from commercial vegetable production and the vegetable CSA next year, we are definitely planning on many future on-farm events.

We continue to stay committed to our mission – to serve the community through farming – and continue to develop the farm into a sustainable business. We can only serve the community by being an economically viable farm business, and because of many factors, growing commercial vegetables has not worked. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to increase raising grazing animals, and sustainable meats have a robust demand locally and in the Bay Area, such that we have a chance at farming full-time and achieving our personal goals (family, health care, down time, etc.)

We hope to see many of you at next week’s distribution, if we arrive around the same time. We love connecting with the individuals who not only eat our food but support us spiritually and financially. We’ll definitely have another communication with you all before the end of the month.

 

Eat well,

Adam & Paula

Many thanks to everyone who helped us harvest the Oaxacan Green dent corn in Potter Valley on Saturday! We had 15 wonderful people from all over the county join us on a beautiful fall afternoon. Everyone was extremely helpful and we harvested about half of the Oaxacan Green corn. The Abenaki Calais flint corn did not produce so great, so we didn’t bother with it.

Non-GMO-Month-2013-Logo-300x149What better way to celebrate our right to choose non-GMO food than to harvest open-pollinated heirloom corn. Corn is one of the most widely planted GMO crops in this country. We have always been passionate about promoting non-GMO food and farming. In 2003/2004, Adam was an active campaigner for the successful “Yes on Measure H” campaign to ban GMO crop cultivation in Mendocino County. He has fond memories of collecting petition signatures and organizing his first fundraiser dinner! Although, while we can petition and vote for change on a ballot, we can vote with our dollars and forks everyday.

Many hands truly make light work! Since we do not have a corn harvester (yet), we are doing things the old fashioned way! Look at the beautiful jewels of dent corn. The variation of shades and patterns reflects the true nature of food – not perfect, as we have been indoctrinated to believe when walking by big grocery store produce shelves.

corn harvest 3 corn closeup corn harvest 2 corn harvest 1We noticed early on that there were some off-types in the field – red ears – or Oaxacan Red corn! It was like a surprise scavenger hunt for red ears of corn. They were very few and far between, but we’re keeping them and plan to plant them separately from the green corn next year.

corn harvest 4 corn harvest 5Everyone eventually found their preferred method of harvesting and shucking corn and loading it into the macrobins. Working together was very social, and we all made new friends!

corn harvest 6 corn harvest 7 corn harvest 8Unfortunately, we did not get any pictures of the refueling crew – Tonia and her two young helpers. They made fresh tortillas and kept the harvesters well-fed in the field with quesadillas and melons. It was a real taste-of-place as we ate the corn and sweet melons from the very same field. Here’s a nice shot of Sarah, committed to eating only Mendocino-sourced food this year, enjoying her first tortilla of the year:

Photo from https://www.facebook.com/eatmendocino , http://www.eatmendocino.com/

Photo from https://www.facebook.com/eatmendocino , http://www.eatmendocino.com/  That is a raw tomato sticking out of the quesadilla.

Find out about Sarah and Gowan’s adventures this year with Eat Mendocino!

corn harvest 9

For now the harvest is hanging out in the newly-built corn crib at Heart Arrow Ranch, and we will be harvesting the rest of the corn soon, before it rains. Be sure to get this corn and corn products by visiting Tonia’s company website, The Corn Crib. There, you can become a member of The Corn Crib, a Corn CSA, and learn more about the corn.

 

 

 

CSA Newsletter: Week 18

Mendocino Organics Vegetable CSA – Tuesday, September 24

In Your Share This Week

  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Slicer Tomatoes
  • Summer Squash
  • Pie Pumpkins
  • Dino Kale
  • Melons
  • Onions

Happy Autumn! Fall time greeted us with our first rain over the weekend and a distinct chill in the air. The rain came down extremely hard at one point Saturday afternoon, and it looked like the soils at all our leased properties soaked up quite a bit of moisture. The hillsides are noticeably turning color to lovely oranges, red, and browns, and our sheep’s coats are growing thicker. Just as our slicer tomatoes are finally starting to ripen, the rain plumped them up a bit, resulting in some cracking. We harvested the best Cherokee Purple and Pink Beauties, but you probably noticed some cracking. Heirloom varieties already tend to crack easily.

This week’s sugar pie pumpkins, called Sugar Baby, are a sure sign of fall. With all the Halloween swag in the stores now, it seems appropriate 🙂 Unlike jack-o-lantern pumpkins, these are less stringy and better for baking. AllRecipes.com has good pointers on how to  cook pumpkin by baking, boiling, or even microwaving. http://allrecipes.com/howto/baking-with-fresh-pumpkin/ There are lots of sweet things you can make with sugar pie pumpkin like muffins, bread, and cheesecake. Find some inspiring recipes here http://food52.com/recipes/search?q=pumpkin

This time of the year, we still don’t have much time for baking, so we will most likely just cut up and roast our pumpkin with some kind of roast. To do this, you cut the top and stem off, scoop out the seeds, and cube up the remaining meat. We coat the pumpkin in olive oil and roast it like winter squash or root vegetables. The seeds, you can season and bake for a snack.

Notes from the Field

We are well into fall cropping now. In the past few weeks, we have been realizing some shifts in the farm. Earlier in the season, we were planning on planting the fall season vegetables in part of the 2-acre field (Field F, one of 2 of our veg fields) at 3WG Ranch in Potter Valley. However, we learned from the landlord that he will be selling that 2-acre field to the county for mitigation. The county is widening East Road in Potter Valley and thus are purchasing mitigation land. Field F is right by the river, and incidentally has been the best vegetable field for us because it has great drainage and good fertility. Drainage is especially important in spring, when planting needs to happen on time.

It doesn’t make sense for us to plant there and invest any more fertility or labor into improving that field, so we switched up our fall/winter plan. We will now have a couple beds in the other field (Field B) at 3WG with fall plantings. This field has some summer plants, and those couple beds with fall veg are close to the packing shed. We also are putting some of the fall veg at the Coyote Field at Heart Arrow Ranch (the hillside garden which is more labor-intensive to farm).

Our plan will be to plant hay in Field F until it is unavailable for us to farm. Losing access to Field F – the best 2 acres for veg at this property – is a big blow to our vegetable growing. It took a long time for us to find good valley farmland for vegetables, and losing this field for future planting makes it hard for us. While we could search for more arable vegetable growing land, we’re at a point in our lives and business that we deem it too challenging to “start over” with the vegetables and instead, we need to focus on the enterprises that have better potential. In our quest to be full-time farmers, we have learned that, for a variety of reasons, that for vegetables, we need to be farming at least 5 acres to be a financially sustainable venture. After this season, we have decided to scale back our vegetable growing to Heart Arrow Ranch, where the land access is secure, and focus on just a half-acre garden at the Coyote Field.

Spring Vegetables in Field F at 3WG Ranch in Potter Valley, back in early June 2013

Spring Vegetables in Field F at 3WG Ranch in Potter Valley, back in early June 2013

We have been talking with our landlord at Heart Arrow Ranch about development there. The Goldens are installing solar on the new livestock barn, as well as a solar water pump for the Coyote Field garden. This winter, much more rangeland will get fenced for pasture areas. We have already staked out half of the Coyote Field that is going to get planted to table grapes, more stone fruit, berries, and hedgerows. And right now, our friend Tonia is building a corn crib there for the heirloom dent corn we are growing together this year.

Mark your calendar for Saturday, October 12! We will be having a harvesting party in Potter Valley, to harvest the Oaxacan Green Corn. You can see where we grew the potatoes, winter squash, and melons in that same field! More details will come.

Eat well,

Adam & Paula

3rd Annual National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa Next Week

Happening next week is The National Heirloom Expo! http://www.theheirloomexpo.com/

Adam and Paula will be giving a workshop there on Wednesday, September 11 at 2:00pm on “Whole Farm Planning for On-Farm Fertility.” There is sooo much to see here, we suggest you go over to the website above to see the lineup and make it south to Santa Rosa next week!