The decisions made inside the White House, State Capitols and even County Offices have tremendous impact on how we farm. Ecological incentives, resources, minimum wage requirements, and market prices are just a few of the countless facets our government influences agricultural.
Legislature can offer protection and support, but it can also overlook realities felt by the farmer, particularly that of the smaller, ecological grower. This is precisely why it’s important for farmers to voice their experiences and needs.
I spoke with Paul Towers, Organizing Director & Policy Advocate at Pesticide Action Network for advice on how farmers can let their voice be heard. He outlines that each type of legislation has different processes, “as you move up in government, they become increasingly more inaccessible.”
The takeaway is that you’re more likely to influence change on the state level. There’s a reason “all politics is local” is a popular catchphrase at all levels of government. Read more
In need of inspiration? New ideas? Or the opportunity to learn about some of the latest trends in the farm business?2018 is full of diverse small-farm conferences happening all over the country. Read more
The most beautiful, deep-green, aphid-free kale can make your heart sing while harvesting it in the field and just as quickly make your heart break as you unpack wilty, rubbery bunches onto your farmers market table. Produce goes through a bit of shock in its transition from field to market, and proper post-harvest handling can either ease or worsen that shock. If building a $20,000 packing shed isn't in your immediate farm plans, here are the basics of all you really need to move produce from your field to your customer in good condition. Read more
Sustainable farming techniques have never been more popular, but understanding what differentiates each one is difficult. For someone looking to join the agricultural industry, is it better to pursue organic compliance, follow the permaculture route, or commit to Demeter-certified biodynamics? Read more
Winter doesn't need to mean the end of farm income. There are plenty of towns with winter farmers markets—and if yours doesn't have one, it might be time to start one.
You may know the farmers-market drill by now, and a farmers market in the off-season isn't much different. There are extra perks to vending at a winter farmers market, like camaraderie among vendors, time spent getting to know your customers without the bustle of the busy season, and a good reason to get off the farm and come into town when the weather is dreary. On the other hand, attracting and retaining customers when their thoughts turn from the lure of local tomatoes to the stress of holiday shopping becomes more of a challenge. Read more
In our previous post, we talked about many of the benefits of email marketing. At this point, you probably know that email marketing is a powerful tool. But, we need to look no further than an inbox full of unopened emails to know that you can’t just send any email and expect the customers to come rolling in. This article will cover tips about how to effectively leverage your email marketing. Read more
In today’s ever expanding organic market, the importance of optimizing your farm's production and marketability is extremely important. Keeping up with new trends and studying up on new research can be discouraging and exhausting. But with a little curiosity and good ole fashioned science experiments, farmers can stay well ahead of the pack in markets while giving farms added stability and improving profitability. Through on farm variety trials, organic producers: increase and optimize for yields; identify climate adapted varieties; increase marketability; manage risks of pest and environmental factors; identify organic seed sources required by the National Organic Program (NOP) and most importantly increase security for individual farms as well as the greater sustainable agriculture community.
Most farmers know that soil sampling is an imperative practice in organic farm management and soil stewardship. But sometimes it can seem like the reports are speaking a different language. Most of the labs generating reports are operating from the school of thought that caters to conventional, big scale, agriculture. But that doesn’t mean it’s useless. Here’s a few suggestions for approaching soil testing with organic practices in mind. Read more
No need to run for cover—unless you’re a cabbage worm. These are not your garden variety wasps! These wasps are mostly stingless, at least to humans. What looks like a stinger is really an ovipositor, used to deposit their eggs into or on top of crop pests, which they use as hosts.
Because of their small size, these beneficial insects often fly under the radar, and outside the notice of many farmers… but they are worth looking out for, as they are capable of performing significant ecosystem services, especially in organic farming systems. Read more
Farms are crawling with bugs - especially those practicing organic farming methods. Pests may be the first bugs that come to mind, but many of these are beneficial insects, providing important services from pollination to pest control.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at one of the most familiar and classic of all beneficials: the lady beetle. Read more
In the last post, we looked at legumes and how their ability to fix nitrogen makes them vital to most cover cropping systems. In the quest for sufficient nitrogen, grasses and cereals play a different, but similarly vital, role. Here we will look at a few of the most broadly regionally-appropriate grasses, whose popularity (see Chart 1) is an indicator of their many strengths.
Grasses are well known for being excellent nitrogen scavengers, capturing residual nitrogen after harvest. Left in the soil, this nitrogen is fairly mobile and liable to be lost to leaching or denitrification during wet winters. (Read more about N cycling in agricultural systems at the Universities of Minnesota and Delaware extensions.) As adept nitrogen fixers, most legumes do not need to be much good at scavenging nitrogen. Grasses, on the other hand, can scavenge and hold residual nitrogen like champs. Read more
The previous post began outlining initial steps for implementing an orchard starting with assessing your skills as a grower and getting acquainted with what qualities to look for when selecting a site. With these basics squared away, next steps are to make decisions around design, sourcing, and scale.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago...the second best time is now” - Chinese proverb
Well, sort of. Perhaps the more responsible answer would be that the second best time to plant a tree is after you’ve conducted a soil test, planted cover crop, and memorized your region’s heat index. Amidst the excitement of future pies, jams, and ciders, starting an orchard implores careful investments and planning. But, the lure of fruit’s high dollar value, the diversification of adding perennials to your system, and simply the joy of growing crops that satisfy your sweet tooth, are reason enough to pursue orcharding.
The familiar little green and white circle sporting the “USDA Certified Organic” label is popping up with increasing frequency, peppering the grocery aisles and being waved like a flag at farmer’s markets across the country. With the number of organic suppliers expanding rapidly, taking the steps to get your farm certified organic is a smart, if not necessary, business move. Since the National Organic Program’s launch in 2002, the organic movement has been well underway, and yet the process of getting certified can seem like a headache. Between the 80 organic certification agencies to choose from, and the paperwork, records, historical reports, and receipts that all need to be collected and synthesized from the past year, or three….the details can feel overwhelming.
If you’re continuing to expand a hand-cultivated production system, sooner or later, you may find your production size has reached the “awkward stage.” The awkward stage is that blurry boundary where the cultivated ground is too much to keep up with by hand, but perhaps not quite big enough to justify the investment in a tractor. If you’re at the micro-production scale and are looking to improve efficiency, you might be a solid candidate for a two-wheeled, walk-behind tractor. Walk-behinds are typically selected by farmers who plant densely, have odd shaped fields (often due to maximizing limited space), or are concerned about compaction in high clay content soils. There are several walk-behind tractors on the market; BCS is a popular brand offering lots of options and serves as a good measure for assessing the potential costs and benefits of acquiring this type of tool.
Legumes, grasses, and cereals make up the majority of commonly-used cover crop species - but there are a few other non-legumes that have value in their niche strengths, particularly in diversified and small-scale farming. This post will take a look at a few crops that are champions when it comes to scavenging phosphorous, attracting beneficial insects, and serving as powerful biodrills and potent biofumigants.
Yes, fun. I happen to really enjoy this part of selling produce, almost as much as I enjoy converting anyone in earshot to share my love of broccoli leaves. (Seriously: it’s going to be big.)
If you’re thinking I’m nuts, that promotion is pretty low on your list of preferred activities, and that you don’t really want to spend any more time on promotion than you need to… then good. This means that, unlike me, you won’t need to remind yourself that the goal, ideally, is to use minimal effort to attain maximum enrollment, thus freeing up more of your time for all those other items on your to-do list. Read more
When marketing your CSA, there are two main places that come to mind: the places where you will promote or advertise your CSA, and those where members receive their shares.
Let’s start with places where you will promote and advertise for your CSA. Read more
When pricing your community supported agriculture shares, where do you begin?
Having never started my own CSA, this seemed like an overwhelmingly complex question -- one I had long been curious about. Do you determine the retail value of the share by researching area prices for the crops you will grow? Do you start with your overall cost of production, look at how much you need (or want) to make, and work backwards? Or is there some other perfect formula for profitable farming that magically reveals itself to you when you become a CSA farmer? After a bit of this kind of pondering, I decided to reach out to my extended ag community to gather information. Read more
I like to think of CSA marketing as a sort of matchmaking process. (Just go with it for a moment.)
So you know this sweet bunch of vegetables, and you want to set them up with this totally great community you happen to know. They’re perfect for each other! To make the match, you’ll want to extol the virtues of your vegetables, of course… but in a way that speaks specifically to your community.
What I mean is that the first step in marketing your CSA is aligning what you have (your product) with what your customers want. To do that, consider the following three questions: Read more
In need of a new irrigation system? Looking to install a windrow of native plants? Hoping to build new high tunnels? Whether you’re starting a farm or looking to upgrade an existing production, the NRCS may be able to help! The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has several financial assistance programs designed to support farmers in accomplishing projects that will improve and protect the land, water, and surrounding habitat. Offering grants and technical assistance, the NRCS has regional and national offices that are here to support such efforts. The application process can feel daunting, so I interviewed Cindy Askew, a District Conservationist at the NRCS based out of LaFayette, Georgia, to see what insight she might be able to offer farmers embarking on the quest for financial assistance. Read more
With thousands of connections made between small farms and eager visitors in the US and around the world, WWOOF is an incredible resource that should not go untapped. A sliding scale membership fee of $5-50 opens the door to thousands of enthusiastic visitors (WWOOFers) in search of their next farming adventure, ready to exchange a half day's work for room and board. Selecting your next WWOOFer can be a bit overwhelming, and finding the right match is crucial for a successful experience. Read more
For farmers that follow sustainable and organic farming methods, cover cropping is a common practice, with many great ecological benefits. Cover crops can literally cover the soil, serving as a mulch whether living or dead. They can also be incorporated into the soil as either a nitrogenous “green” manure, or as more mature, carbonaceous addition. Including cover crops in your rotation will improve soil fertility and tilth by adding organic matter (which also increases the water-holding capacity of your soil), breaking up clods, and fracturing compaction from tillage. Cover crops prevent erosion, suppress weeds, and provide habitat for beneficial insects, and allow you to fix (or add) nitrogen and mine or scavenge nutrients for your next cash crop. Read more
Unexpected blow outs in irrigation pipes and malfunctioning sprinklers are inevitable events that contribute to inconsistent water output. But, even when a system appears to be running smoothly, upon a closer look, you may be surprised by the inconsistencies. Variable irrigations build upon themselves application after application- salts can accumulate, nitrogen can leach, and crops suffer. Running a simple distribution uniformity (DU) test can reveal how evenly water is actually being applied, enabling you to weigh the need for making improvements while also informing proper irrigation sets. Because uniformity has significant impact on yield and water usage, running the occasional DU test on drip and overhead systems is well worth the time. Read more
The number of breweries in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2011, now approaching a count of 4,300, according to the Brewer’s Association. The craft beer business is booming; seasonal batches and unique ferments from local ingredients are filling the kegs of hip bars in every city. There’s no doubt beer is a product consumers are excited about, and hops are a key ingredient. Integrating hops into your crop plan is a significant commitment, but it’s worth entertaining; here are a few key considerations to get the juices flowing. Read more
In the current climate of convenience, retaining your community supported agriculture (CSA) members - the ones who leap into shared seasonal risks with you - can be a challenging feat. Whether you connect with your community of CSA members in person at the on-farm pickup, or simply via the weekly e-newsletter, surveying your members provides insight as to how the CSA is being received. An end-of-season survey is a great way to learn more; the trick is designing it to be effective, so that it doesn't take up too much time and provides relevant results.
The Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) strives to support the “hardworking farmer veterans who have chosen to serve their nation twice – once by defending it and once by feeding it.” The idea for the Coalition germinated out of a gathering convened by Michael O’Gorman, previously of Jacob’s Farm/Del Cabo, in 2007. Read more
It’s no secret that when starting an organic farm, there is plenty to consider: soil building, crop planning, infrastructure, just to name a few. While these are obvious and necessary, it’s also important to considering developing a brand for your organic farm. One important aspect of branding is creating a farm logo. Read more
Odds are pretty good that you got into farming because you love the feeling of dirt under your fingernails and sun on your face more than the glow of a computer screen. And yet, even the most technophobic of us know that the digital world offers powerful tools for sustainable farms, especially when it comes to marketing. Read more
Proper greenhouse management is extremely important for the efficiency and health of a farm. It may seem simple — put a seed in a tray with soil, add water, and voila, there are young plants to transplant into the field. In theory, yes, that’s all there is to it. But optimal air temperature and water delivery are crucial for the development of seedlings. Also, hidden in the air all around us, in the water coming out of a hose, and in the ground inside a greenhouse, there are many mysterious little life forms ready to wreak havoc on young plants. The three most important greenhouse management practices are optimal temperature control, consistent air circulation and proper moisture delivery. Read more
Tomatoes are by far one of the most prized and valued vegetable crops on the market these days. The mere number of varieties, types and growth techniques are head spinning. From heirloom to hybrid, beefsteak to paste, hot-house to dry-farmed, and the ever more popular grafted tomatoes, it’s hard to keep up with what’s what these days. This is the first in a series of articles that will try to alleviate the ails of understanding tomato culture and describe the most popular growth techniques as well as get to the bottom of what all the hype is about. Read more
Here we will discuss three main types of CSA models that have been successful all over the country: “Boxed” Subscription Style, On-Farm “Market” Style and Farmers Market “Bucks” Style. All three have strong pros but also may not be the best fit for every farm. With a little bit of forethought you can save yourself money and headaches by choosing the best fit for you. Read more
With the public interest in farming growing faster than a zucchini in July, now is a great time to think about offering a class on your farm. Workshops and classes are a fun way to connect with new and existing customers, sharpen your skills, increase revenue, and build relationships. Read more
The vital role honey bees play in the pollination enterprise is certainly no secret; honey bees are among the highest valued pollinators in agriculture, and as evident in the last several years, are dying and disappearing at an astronomical rate due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). According to the USDA, 42% of all honeybee colonies were lost in 2014 - the second highest rate on record. Given that over a third of all global crops are dependant on pollinators (not to mention an even larger percentage of crops that are enhanced by bee activity), entomologists are already on the lookout for alternative pollinators. Read more
Tend began when our Founder and CEO, Avi Benaroya, began growing food for his family on his property in Northern California. After searching for software to help manage a diversified farm and having little luck, an idea was born: a mobile and web app to help diversified farmers manage their crops and sell more produce. It’s been a productive journey since then, and today we’re excited to take one more step toward our mission of enabling quality food systems: the launch of our blog! Read more