Reflecting Back

There has been lots of change this year, most of it planned and expected but surprising and exciting nonetheless.

I started this year with the decision to take a sabbatical, to step back from my 10 year long farming operation and really analyze my business. This analysis included running the numbers as well as taking time to check in with myself as the founder and operator of Quarter Acre Farm to see what I wanted both professionally and personally. In farming as with any small business it’s easy to get tunnel vision and just stay on the hamster wheel working tirelessly as the seasons and years roll by.

My analysis lead me to the conclusion that I wanted to continue farming but needed to secure long-term land access in the form of ownership. I also wanted to increase my take-home income, which for me means a farm larger than 1 acre. With these realizations I could not figure out how I could achieve this in the San Francisco Bay Area and remain a financially sustainable business.

With my farm and personal goals in place I began looking for a region that I could make those goals a reality. As many people know from my accent, I’m from Maryland, which I left at 18 to pursue a study in agriculture and sustainable living. I never figured I would return for more than a visit but for the benefit of family I figured I should look at Maryland. It quickly became apparent that the Eastern Shore had everything I wanted; lots of farmland, reasonable driving distance to metropolitan areas, county/ state support for new and established farmers, a community with a budding interest in organic agriculture, hot summers, and an affordable cost of living.

So we made the big cross-country move to Maryland, landing in Easton for now as we get our bearings and figure out where on the Eastern Shore we would like to eventually buy land. In the meantime I have been connecting with the local ag community who have been extremely welcoming and I have had the opportunity to participate in an array of different programs, tours, and seminars for farmers in the region.

This coming year I will be leasing a small plot of land to grow tomatoes, pumpkins, popcorn, and seedlings; selling at a local farmers market. After over 10 years on the west coast I need to get used to growing with rainfall in the summer, warm nights, east coast pests, and Maryland’s seasons. Also in 2019 I will be participating in the Future Harvest BFTP which gives me the opportunity to be mentored by Vic Priapi at Priapi Gardens, an awesome operation growing organic vegetables out in the field and under cover plus a nursery operation. During this coming season I will begin the search for a “perfect” piece of farmland to call my very own. I’m really looking forward to what 2019 will bring.

 

Wishing you all a happy, healthy new year filled with adventures and possibilities.

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Get Outside

Since I’m not farming this year I have realized that I’m spending a lot of time inside. Working on the computer, reading books, organizing farm supplies, and other random indoor activities. This sedentary work is not new I have always spent plenty of time indoors during February. But the difference this year is I don’t have the farm work to force me to go outside. This might seem like a no-brainer but I just didn’t realize that without my normal farm work, I would not be automatically getting fresh air and exercise.

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Quarryhill Botanical Garden

My close friends know I don’t consider myself an “outdoorsy person” never doing an activity that requires physical effort unless the farm required it, I would never join a gym or make time to go exercise. But between all the computer work and this ridiculously sunny warm weather we have been having, my body has been aching to get outside and move around. So recently I started listening to the demands of my body and making time to go outside for long walks and even a few hikes. I’m still not gonna join a gym but I have begun to schedule exercise into my week.

sonoma valley

Overlooking Sonoma Valley

Another Season is Done

Now that it’s the end of the season it seems like eons ago that I was getting the field ready for the beginning of the growing season. Even though it was just 10 months ago that I was starting tomato seeds in the greenhouse and about 7 months ago that I was planting popcorn kernels in the field. Now everything has been mowed down or has been killed by the frost.

Tomato field past its prime

The growing season is always a whirlwind but it still has an undeniable rhyme. With the arrival of spring the daylight grows, egging you on to become more active and get outside to work. The heat of summer pushes everything to grow big and lush including your energy level. Fall shows up colorful but exhausted, encouraging you to slow down. Then winter with its cold short days shoos you inside to stay cozy and inspires you to reflect. Even though I may fight these seasonal urges at first, I quickly give in because it is exactly what my body is demanding my mind to do.

Popcorn field through the seasons

So as winter approaches, it’s officially 10 days away, I have started to review the growing season, celebrating my achievements and figuring out how to better address the challenges.

Don’t Forget About the Drip Tape

The final harvest from the farm happened weeks ago but there is still work to be done out there. Before the field can be put to bed for the season, the irrigation must be removed. All the drip tape that runs the length of every bed must be picked up. After providing crops with months and month of water the drip tape is now pretty much covered in weeds.

So for me, drip tape removal involves a lot of pulling and dragging, not my favorite activity, but it’s gotta be done. If you leave the drip irrigation in the field over winter it will disappear, until you go to mow or rototill and then it gets stuck in all your equipment.

Drip tape ready to be recycled

Unfortunately removing drip tape is a much slower task than it is to install it in the spring. So between the rainy days, the labor involved in removing irrigation, and my love for procrastinating tasks I dislike; it may be sometime before the field gets cleaned up this season.

Planning Out the Season

This time of year is all about crop planning. I start by determining how many pounds per week I would like to harvest of each crop. From there I can determine exactly how many seeds I will need for each crop. Then I do an inventory of all the seeds I currently have, as most seeds stay viable for many years.

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Next up is the seed order where I break down each crop by variety and order new seeds if needed. Finally I create the planting schedule which spans the whole season with the date for each crop variety planting and how many seeds will need to be started or transplanted. When the days become long and crazy I don’t have to do any calculations to figure out what needs to be started in the greenhouse, I just look down at my planting schedule find today’s date and the many tasks that need to be done are listed right there. Keeping good notes from year to year of what you sell and how much you sell, is extremely important in determining what you should grow in future seasons. Farming is a business, so farmers must look towards their numbers when making decisions around their crop plans. All of this work requires a lot of time in front of the computer staring at spreadsheets but it is well worth it.

Farms Speeding By My Window

Last week I returned from a cross country train trip. My husband and I hopped on the California Zephyr train in Davis and rode for three days to Chicago.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Then switch over to the Capitol Limited train which took a day to get to Washington DC. After a week in Maryland we took the same trains back across the country.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

The American landscape that passed by my train window was beautiful, it was hard to do anything other than stare out the window, there was so much to see. The train takes you through urban, suburban, rural, and wilderness areas. I of course was interested in spotting farms.

Cattle somewhere in Illinois

Cattle somewhere in Illinois

I saw many different working farms throughout every landscape. I also saw a lot of old barns falling down, farm houses that had long been abandoned, and surrounding acres overgrown. I can’t say that I was surprised by these sights, over 150 years ago 90 percent of Americans were farmers and today less than 2 percent are involved in agriculture. But I still wondered what happen to that farmer that once built that grand farmhouse and large barn. As a farmer you need a long term view of your farm business and it takes a lot of work and dedication to build it. So these quick glimpses I caught of the past out my train window reminded me of the farmers that came before and the farmers that will come after me.

Farm somewhere in Iowa

Farm somewhere in Iowa

End of the Season

Except for bagging up popcorn, I have not been doing much farm work. This time of year the labor does not involve heavy lifting. It’s the end of the year and I’m spending time reflecting on this growing season.

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Thinking about what worked well, what was annoying, and what was fun.  Work enjoyment, is high on my list of how I evaluate the success of Quarter Acre Farm. No one forced me to farm and at the end of the day I became a farmer because I enjoy agriculture and farm life. I have not gone into full planning mode for next year as I still have one more farmers’ market on December 30th before the farm is officially done with 2016.

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After which I’ll spend my days flipping through seed catalogs, calculating how many plants I need to grow, placing seed orders, and figuring out a detail schedule for the 2017 season. Oh and I will do so much needed relaxing.

Getting Gifts Together

It is the gift giving time of year. I’ve been busy making most of my holiday gifts. It can be tough to figure out what to give friends and family but I have always found handcrafted items bring a smile to anyone’s face no matter how big or small the gift is. The trick, is finding the time to sit down and craft during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. I’ve been getting crafty since mid-November and I still have a gift or two to finish. This year I have been making tasty cookies, cozy hats, simple ornaments and some top-secret handmade pieces. I’m not gonna lie, not everything I wrap up is an intricate handcrafted item that took me hours to complete. I do give a lot of people popcorn, cause who doesn’t love organic heirloom popcorn.

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Cleaning Up For the Season

After a bit of a dry spell, the rains are back. In December this hauls any fieldwork and sends this farmer inside to stay dry.

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But there is plenty of farm work to do like organizing everything in the barn, cleaning up the greenhouse, doing various paperwork, and even taking sometime to read a good book. After a busy growing season it’s nice to have less pressing work, so you can catch up on all the tasks that you’ve been putting off.

My tools and supplies are in a huge disarray. Empty tomato boxes are piled here and there, green pint baskets hide in every corner, and I’m still looking for pruners I misplaced this spring. The last time I stepped into the greenhouse was in the early fall when I took out the last of the seedlings, but those growing trays don’t put themselves away. My desk is looking pretty good but there is still stray receipts and invoices that I need to be added to Quickbooks. As much as I’m ready for a full on break from the farm, there is still work to be done before this farmer can call it quits for the season.  

Oh Drip Tape

I’ve been doing a lot of mowing and removing a lot of irrigation. This is the early winter work involved in putting the field to bed for the season.  It’s typically this time of year that I realize there is something I dislike more than weeding and that is pulling out drip tape that has been covered and smothered with weeds.

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Drip irrigation is a very efficient way to water your crops, efficient in the sense of water usage not in the sense of labor. Every spring you must lay it all out and at the end of the season you have to remove it all. This amounts to thousands and thousands of feet of drip tape. Year after year I close out my season with the same activity of wrestling with the drip tape to get it out of the field. It is like resistance training with all the pulling and the following day my shoulders and arms are sore from this intense work out. After the irrigation is out of the way I mow down the weeds.

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With the recent rains the weeds are growing so fast I need to mow myself a path to just walk out to the field. I find myself making many excuses to mow, just to delay the annoying work of drip tape removal.