Speaking Events, Good Reading, Sustainable Agriculture Courses

Photo by Karen Lanier

Photo by Karen Lanier

I’ve got my Events Page organized now, so you can check there whenever you’re wondering where I might show up next, addressing a conference or a classroom.

In January, I will be speaking at two conferences: VABF and SSAWG.

January 10-11 (Tuesday and Wednesday) 2017, Virginia Biological Farming Conference http://vabf.org/conference/  Location: Omni Homestead Resort, 7696 Sam Snead Highway, Hot Springs, VA. 800 838 1766. Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2017-virginia-biological-farming-conference-tickets-28261472826.

Two 90 minute workshops: Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers and Spring and Summer Hoophouses. Book signing and sales.

Jan 25-28, 2017 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference http://www.ssawg.org/january-2017-conference/ Location: Hyatt Regency Hotel and Convention Center, 401 West High St, Lexington, KY 40507. 888 421 1442, 800 233 1234. Registration: http://www.ssawg.org/registration

Two 90 minute workshops: Diversify your Vegetable Crops (Friday 2-3.30pm) and Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales (Saturday 8.15-9.45 am). Workshops will be recorded. Book signing (Thursday 5pm) and sales.


planning-designing-the-family-food-garden-book-cover-2-e1454884966600-768x993I recently discovered an interesting website and blog: Family Food Garden by Isis Loran. I found it because Isis recommends my book Sustainable Market Farming in her article on designing for large-scale family food production. She lives in zone 5 in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada.

Isis Loran is collecting and sharing a lot of good information, and she has written a book Planning and Designing the Family Food Garden  (which I haven’t seen yet). The E-book is $12.99 online, and you can preview 12 pages before buying.

She also sells a 23 page garden planner via Etsy, the craft retail site, for $11.05 Canadian.

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For growers more at the farmer end of the scale than the family garden end, the November/December issue of the Organic Broadcaster from MOSES is out.

There’s an article Farmers use creative mix of new technology, adapted equipment to grow row crops. Carolyn Olsen writes about  a 36 burner flame-weeder they made from a sprayer!

In Expanding market offers opportunities for herb growers to create value-added products, Jane Hawley Stevens, of Four Elements Organic Herbals, writes about growing more than 150 varieties of herbs on their 130-acre certified organic farm near Madison, Wisconsin. In SILT offers permanent solution to affordable land access in Iowa, Denise O’Brien describes the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT), a new model that reduces land costs for sustainable food farmers for generations to come. SILT permanently protects land from development, for truly sustainable production of food. Retiring farmers are donating land to this worthy cause.

There are more articles, some about livestock, one about the questionable organic certification on some imported grain crops, one about farm finances, and many more.


Lastly, I’d like to hear from you if you know of a college using my book for a text for sustainable agriculture courses. I know of a few in Virginia, but I’d like to hear more. At the Carolina farm Stewardship Conference at the beginning of November, I met a student at the Central Carolina Community College. The “green-collar” workforce in the “Green Central” program learns about Sustainable Ag and according to the student I spoke with, they chose my book because it is more regionally appropriate for the Carolinas.

I’d like to make more contacts with teachers of sustainable ag courses, and look into marketing my book as a text.

Hoophouse lettuce in winter at Twin Oaks. Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Hoophouse lettuce in winter at Twin Oaks.
Photo Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

2015 Events Calendar and pawpaws

virginia-biological-farming-conference-2015-richmond

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  January 29-31 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  Conference registration covers your choice of the 25 workshops on Friday and Saturday; Friday dinner and Saturday lunch; access to the trade show, where you can handle the tools you’re considering buying, and ask questions of the vendors.

Cole Planet Junior Push Seeder

Cole Planet Junior Push Seeder

Speaking of tools, I hope to sell our (long-unused) Cole Planet Junior push seeder at the conference. They are $760 new. Ours is in working order with all the seed plates and an attached bag to keep them in. I’ll sell it for $350 cash or check. Should you ever need them, spare parts are readily available, for instance from Woodward Crossings. It’s not a museum piece or lawn ornament, it’s a working piece of equipment.

At the VBF Conference, there are 3 pre-conference workshops (4 to 7 hours each) on Thursday, for $60-$75: Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame, Urban Farming Intensive with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima, and Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure fame).

I’m giving two workshops. Friday at 3pm: Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests – How to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers, edamame and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages  and on Saturday at 10.30 am, Producing Asian Greens – Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting. I’ll also be signing and selling books during Saturday lunchtime.

Bring a dish for the Friday potluck picnic at lunchtime, seeds for the seed swap, a notebook and two pens, a bag to collect handouts and so on, and if you play music, bring an instrument and some songs for the jam on Friday night.


 

logoThen the next weekend, I’m at the  Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015, at State College, PA. There are extra pre-conference sessions on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th, then the main conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I am speaking on Growing Great Garlic (Saturday 3.10 pm) and also on Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (Friday 8.30 am). I will also be doing book-signing and sales.


 

small-farm-center_bannerFebruary 26-28, 2015 I will be speaking at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference in Charleston, WV. My workshops will be Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests on Saturday 2/28 at 9.30 am and two new ones on Friday 2/27, Hoophouse Summer Crops at 9.30 am and Hoophouse Winter Crops at 10.30 am. They are currently listed as High Tunnel workshops. Some say that researchers and Extension agents call them High Tunnels and growers call them Hoophouses, but whatever you call them, high tunnels and hoophouses are the same thing.


 

MENFairLogoMy next booking is at the Mother Earth News Fair in Asheville, North Carolina, April 11-12, 2015. I haven’t firmed up my workshops and book signings yet, but I might do the hoophouse workshops again (from WVSFC)


HHF Save the Date_2015The next booking after that that I have is at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015. Too soon to name the topic. Maybe Crop Rotations and Asian Greens. And I expect to be doing book signings at the Monticello Bookshop.

 


 

As far as future events I hope to be at, there are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015 and Topeka, KS October 24-25 2015.


Now then, about pawpaws. Neal Peterson has worked for years developing superior flavored pawpaw varieties, and he wants to go global! That is, he wants to secure contracts to sell plants of his varieties worldwide. To do this, he has to have trademarked varieties. So he has set up a Peterson Pawpaws Kickstarter campaign to raise at least $20,000 by . If you’ve tasted pawpaws and if you support fruit diversity, consider if you can back up your support with some hard cash.

You can watch his video here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1750376414/peterson-pawpaws-go-global?ref=card

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Events I’ll be speaking at in 2015, more new varieties

virginia-biological-farming-conference-2015-richmondLast week I listed four events I’m booked for for next year. I’ll fill you in a bit and tell you about some more I hope to be at. My first is

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  January 29-31 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. Early registration (hurry! ends 12/20) is $130 for members, $190 for non-members. So why not become a member if you aren’t already? You’ll get news all year. Conference registration covers your choice of the 25 workshops on Friday and Saturday; access to the trade show, where you can handle the tools you’re considering buying, and ask questions of the vendors; Friday dinner and Saturday lunch;

There are 3 pre-conference workshops (4 to 7 hours each) on Thursday, for $60-$75: Essential Tools & Techniques for the Small Scale Organic Vegetable Growers by Jean-Martin Fortier of The Market Gardener fame, Urban Farming Intensive with Cashawn Myer & Tenisio Seanima, and Edible Landscaping with Michael Judd and Ira Wallace (of Southern Exposure fame).

I’m giving two workshops: Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests – How to plan sowing dates for continuous supplies of popular summer crops, such as beans, squash, cucumbers, edamame and sweet corn, as well as year round lettuce. Using these planning strategies can help avoid gluts and shortages (3pm Friday); and  Producing Asian Greens – Detailed information for market and home growers. Many varieties of tasty, nutritious greens grow quickly and bring fast returns. This session covers production of Asian greens outdoors and in the hoophouse. It includes tips on variety selection of over twenty types of Asian greens; timing of plantings; pest and disease management; fertility; weed management and harvesting (10.30 am Saturday). I’ll also be signing and selling books.

Bring a dish for the Friday potluck picnic at lunchtime, seeds for the seed swap, a notebook and two pens, a bag to collect handouts and so on, and if you play music, bring an instrument and some songs for the jam on Friday night.

logoThen the next weekend, I’m at the  Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015, at State College, PA. There are extra pre-conference sessions on Tuesday 3rd and Wednesday 4th, then the main conference on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I am speaking on Growing Great Garlic (Saturday 3.10 pm) and also on Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables (Friday 8.30 am). I also hope to be doing book-signing and sales.

small-farm-center_bannerFebruary 26-28, 2015 I will be speaking at the West Virginia Small Farms Conference in Charleston, WV. That workshop will either be Cold-hardy Winter Vegetables, or Succession Planting for Continuous Vegetable Harvests.

2012-festival-slideshowThe fourth booking I have is at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015. Too soon to name the topic.

MENFairLogoAs far as events I hope to be at, there are the Mother Earth News Fairs in Asheville, NC April 11-12, 2015, Seven Springs, PA September 18-20 2015 and Topeka, KS October 24-25 2015


 

Carioca Batavian lettuce. Credit Johnnys Seeds

Carioca Batavian lettuce.
Credit Johnnys Seeds

And meanwhile, this week on the farm we finished our seed ordering and started some shopping for tools and supplies. In 2015 we will repeat our variety trials to try to find a heat-tolerant eggplant variety. We were happy to find another Batavian heat-tolerant lettuce to try: Carioca from Johnny’s. With the addition of a few exceptions, we rely on Batavian lettuce varieties once the weather gets hot, to grow without bolting or getting (very) bitter. the exceptions are Jericho green romaine, De Morges Braun and New Red Fire, a looseleaf red lettuce which nearby grower Gary Scott told me about.

We are also growing some Eden Gem melons alongside our Kansas and Sun Jewel melons (and the individual-serving size Tasty Bites that I mentioned in my last post.

Peacework sweet pepper. Credit fedco Seeds

Peacework sweet pepper.
Credit fedco Seeds

We have high hopes for Peacework sweet pepper from Fedco, a very early (65 day) OP medium-thick-walled pepper “with good flavor and full-bodied sweetness.” We are always on the look-out for fast-ripening bell peppers. Because of the seed-growing business at Twin Oaks, at the end of the season we have tons of ripe peppers, but if you are growing a seed crop, there is no incentive to try to push the planting date early. So our main pepper-focus in the vegetable garden is on earliness and flavor – never forget the importance of flavor!

We are also trying Donkey spinach this year. For years we have been very happy with the reliable performance and productivity of Tyee, but Fedco tell us the producer of Tyee is a Multinational engaged in genetic engineering. If Donkey can replace Tyee we’ll be very happy!

 

Ordering seeds, new varieties, planning future speaking events

Our hoophouse bursting with winter greens. Credit Twin Oaks Community

Our hoophouse bursting with winter greens.
Credit Twin Oaks Community

The weather is chilly and grey, so I’m happy not to have to spend long outdoors. The hoophouse is bursting with greens, and I’ll harvest in there after lunch, to avoid nitrate accumulation in the leaves, which is highest first thing in the morning..

We’ve been working on our seed orders. We start by weighing and making an inventory of the seeds we have left over. We check the dates on the packets too, and write off the ones too old to be vigorous next year. We throw our discarded seeds into an Old Seeds Bucket, and we have several ways of using old seeds. For instance, if we have a short-term space in the hoophouse in winter, we make a mix of brassica seeds and sow a baby salad mix. We have also made mixes of old seeds to use for cover crops outdoors. And we’ve retrieved seeds when we’ve had a germination issue with a sowing. We sow the old seeds alongside the poorly germinated ones, and order some new seed. When the new seed arrives, we might sow that, or if the old seed has come up OK, we’ll save the new seed for next time.

We use spreadsheets for our seed inventory and seed order, and we use the seed inventory to make the seed order, so we can see at a glance how much we need to order. It helps us buy enough seed, but not too much. buying too much either leads to wasting money (if we throw it away) or wasting time and money (if we sow old seed that doesn’t come up well, then have a crop failure). We do the seed ordering as a small group exercise, with the perk that each crew member who participates gets to choose an “impulse-grow”! It could be a couple of tomato plants of a new variety or 120 feet of a direct sown crop. I’m hoping to try individual serving sized melons.

I championed the idea of growing some Babybeats in the hoophouse. I had to trade away a sowing of radishes, but it will be worth it! Babybeat takes only 40 days to grow (a little bit longer than radishes), and produces a small round or top-shaped beet as well as nice small beet greens. This year radishes have gone out of favor, and we don’t have many beets in winter storage, so early spring beets will be appreciated.

Royal Burgundy beans. Credit Fedco Seeds

Royal Burgundy beans.
Credit Fedco Seeds

We also make some group decisions on new crops. We decided to try Royal Burgundy beans in our hoophouse, where we do an early sowing, and want a variety that is easy to pick.We noted  “Grows well even in cold conditions. Light brown seed ” in the description. White-seeded beans don’t germinate as well in cold conditions.

Boldor beets. Credit Johnnys  Seeds

Boldor beets.
Credit Johnnys Seeds

Next year we are trying a couple of rows of Boldor golden beets.  Unusual color vegetables are not always liked by our cooks – we’ll see how it goes.

Yellowstone Carrots. Credit Fedco Seeds

Yellowstone Carrots.
Credit Fedco Seeds

We are also trying some carrots other than orange: Yellowstone and Atomic Red.  Our dissatisfaction with the cabbage varieties we have tried for winter storage is leading us to try Storage No. 4 again. Because our long-time favorite Ventura celery isn’t available, we are planning to try Redventure celery next year.

malabar Spinach, a summer green leafy crop. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

Malabar Spinach, a summer green leafy crop.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

And we are trying Red Malabar Spinach next year, on a tall trellis next to the asparagus beans. We freed up the space by deciding not to grow parsnips, which we have lost to weeds at least two years running, now.

We were dismayed to learn from our Fedco catalog that two of our three favorite sweet corn varieties, Kandy Korn and Silver Queen are from Bayer or Syngenta, manufacturers of neonicotinoids – these pesticides have been connected with  poor health of honeybees, perhaps with Colony Collapse Disorder. Fedco does a great job providing information about the farmers and companies providing the seed they sell. It leads us to many interesting discussions, weighing up the relative importance of organically grown seed, price, the presumed agricultural and ecological values of the supplier, the workplace structure of the seed company, and of course the suitability of the variety for our climate and our needs. So we will be growing Incredible sweet corn (85 days to maturity) alongside Kandy Korn (89 days), and Tuxana (90 days) for comparison next year. While scrutinizing the sweet corn varieties offered, we became enchanted with the notion of Early Sunglow, only 64 days to maturity. We are very happy with Bodacious 77 day corn, but an even earlier one. . . !!!Sweet corn with undersown soybean  cover crop. Photo Kathryn SimmonsSweet corn with undersown soybean cover crop. Photo Kathryn Simmons         

Alabama Blue collards. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Alabama Blue collards.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Meanwhile, the catalog from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has arrived. They have some interesting new varieties and crops. Alabama Blue collards look beautiful: plum-colored veins in blue-green leaves.

And a crop I’ve never seen before : Jewels of Opar,  a salad green (and ornamental) related to purslane.

Jewels of Opar. Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Jewels of Opar.
Credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

 

All this talk of varieties new -to-us doesn’t give you any ideas about our tried-and-true favorites, but if you look in the catalogs from Fedco Seeds, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Johnny’s Selected Seeds, you’ll find most of them.

And I haven’t much time left today to tell you about my workshop presentations next year. More on that next time. So far:

Virginia Biological Farming Conference  JANUARY 29-31 2015

Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Farming for a Future Conference February 4-7, 2015

West Virginia Small Farms Conference February 26-28, 2015

Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello September 11-12, 2015

Potato and tomato yields, VABF Conference, weather extremes.

Potato harvest 2014 croppedPotato harvest October 2014. Credit Nina Gentle.

We got our June-planted potato harvest finished last week, and I counted the crates – 122. That makes 3660 pounds, a pretty good amount for the space we used. The Red Pontiac seem to have done a whole lot better than the Kennebec – the same result we got from our March-planted crop. One thought is that maybe the Kennebec seed pieces were cut too small, although I’d be surprised if the whole crew managed to do the same thing twice.

Potatoes into crates croppedWe use discarded plastic crates for our potatoes. They are lightweight, stack easily and don’t grow mold. We store our crop in our root cellar, which is built into the ground, a kind of constructed cave. Nice, fossil-fuel free and low-tech. And, like natural caves, it is prone to damp. It’s prone to mice too, but we have our organic solution to that problem: a black snake lives in there. We have been known to commandeer a snake, if none has chosen to move in. It’s a good winter home for snakes

Our organic pest mouse  remover. Credit Nina Gentle

Our organic pest mouse control expert.
Credit Nina Gentle


We also tallied our Roma paste tomato harvests for the year. We gathered 313 5-gallon buckets. If we’d had more workers we could have harvested more. Our plan was to harvest the whole patch of 530 plants twice a week, but during the peak of the season we were lucky if we could get one half harvested each time.The plants stayed in good health throughout the season, and the fruit stayed a good size. This is thanks to the selection work I have been doing when we save our seed (Roma Virginia Select). Also thanks to drip irrigation we have reduced water splashing on the leaves, which can spread fungal spores.

Geek Special: See our harvest data here:Roma Harvests

Roma is a determinate variety, meaning the number of trusses (branches) of fruit is genetically predetermined, but as with many crops, the more you pick, the more you get. Leaving mature fruit delays development of immature fruit. I have not found anyone to tell me how many trusses of fruit Roma has, and despite growing 530 plants each year for over 20 years, I have never taken the time to count them. Maybe next year. . .

If you read descriptions of determinate tomato varieties, you would think they are all tiny plants with a three-week harvest window. Roma is a large determinate, at least 4ft tall, and our harvest period lasts from mid-July until frost (usually late October here). Our peak period is about a month (early August to early September). Here’s a general description from www.seedaholic.com: “Determinate varieties are generally smaller and more compact than indeterminate tomatoes. . .”


 

The Twin Oaks Garden Crew is getting ready to have our annual Crop Review meeting. We work our way down an alphabetical list of crops, noting what worked and what didn’t. And at the same time, we pop our garlic bulbs into separate cloves for planting.


My next speaking engagement is at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference January 30 and 31 2015, with pre-conference sessions on Thursday January 29. Online registration is now open. I’ll be presenting my workshops  on Asian Greens and Succession Planting for Continuous Harvests. Lots of other great workshops too, including from Jean-Martin Fortier. Follow the link to get to my book review of The Market Gardener.


If you looking for a chatty online group of homesteaders, try Earthineer or, of course, the Mother Earth News blogs (I write for the Organic Gardening Blog)


Guess which was our hottest day this year: September 2? July 2? June 18? May 26? I recorded 97F, 98F, 98F and 90F. August didn’t get a look in! June 18 tied with July 2. And our wettest day was April 29, with 3″. Hurricane season didn’t bring us anything to blog about. I’m not complaining!

 

Getting the most from conferences, plus updates on blog and events

cropped-website-header-2013-12The program for the Virginia Biofarming Conference just arrived in the mail, and I’m happily highlighting workshops I want to go to.

Meanwhile I’ve been feeling wistful that I’m not going to the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference this year. It’s January 15-18 at Mobile, Alabama. I hope it will be closer to home next year!facebook cover 2014 highres

This winter, for the first time, I’m going to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference, Farming for the Future February 5-82014-ART-SLIDE

“““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`As I’m starting to think about attending conferences (as opposed to thinking about presentations I’ve agreed to make), I’m reminding myself of ways of getting the most out of time at a conference. I thought I’d pass some tips along.

Before the conference

  • If you’re short of money, look for scholarships or work-exchange opportunities at the conference you want to go to. But start early, as there will be limited offers.
  • Beforehand, be sure of the dates and times. Sometimes there are pre-conference events, either included with the price of registration, or for an extra fee. If I’m going, I want to take advantage of all the opportunities I can!
  • Book accommodation in good time to get the best deals. Some conferences match up attendees with local members with spare rooms or even floor space, or set up a way for attendees to share hotel rooms with compatible others. There’s Couchsurfing and Airbnb, if you can’t afford a hotel. Cheaper accommodation could mean you can stay an extra day and not miss anything.
  • If you are in a hotel, find out what’s included with the price of the room. Breakfast? Microwave? Mini-fridge? Kettle? You could do some self-catering and save money that way. Find out which meals are included with registration. Or are there “Heavy snacks” receptions – just as filling as a meal!
  • Contact others to car-pool. This could be friends or simply other attendees from your area (Future Friends!)
  • Having taken care of your physical needs, turn your attention to the workshop program. Highlight the ones you really want to go to. Use a different highlighter to mark your second choices (just sometimes you’ll discover your first choice isn’t such a good match as you expected. It’s OK to jump ship!)
  • Some speakers repeat a workshop in two different time-slots. This is a big help when you are finding it hard to choose between two concurrent workshops.
  • Talk to friends who are also going. Perhaps they’ll go to different workshops and you can photocopy their notes or handouts later.

At the conference

  • Make a “pocket list” with your list of activities for each day, including times and room numbers or names. Include your second choices, to make jumping ship speedy if you need to do that. Include any non-workshop events, such as if you make a date to meet someone to talk over a meal. It’s so much quicker to refer to a little note in your pocket than to drag out the whole program and page through it.
  • Keep the conference map handy, perhaps folded in your pocket, or clipped to your notebook.
  • Bring a comfortable-to-use notebook and more than one pen. Maybe a camera to snap screenshots at presentations. Some people bring laptops or tablets, some bring audio-recording devices. All ways to help you remember key points of the presentation. Studies show that the actual writing-down of things helps you remember them – it’s not a matter of reading the notes later (although if your notes are legible, you are more likely to read them later).
  • Get to the room in good time to collect any handouts and flip through to see what’s there. This will save frantic unnecessary scribbling if the chart you want is already in the handout. Sit where you can see and hear. I’ve discovered in recent years that having progressive lenses means I need to sit in the center rather than off to one side.
  • Use the margins of the handout or your notes to flag particular items to follow-up later.
  • Ask questions immediately if you don’t understand clearly. Save your questions that broaden the discussion until the speaker has finished their presentation. They should have allowed time for that, and waiting till the end avoids creating a diversion.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach the speaker after the presentation. We speakers are just human beings. We  want our presentations to be understood. We need to know if we worded something in a confusing way. We will benefit from knowing which aspects of our topic you want to know more about.
  • Be sure to fill out the conference evaluation form, and don’t be constrained by the questions that are asked! Add suggestions for future speakers or future topics. Be as specific as possible with your feedback, so it is useful to the presenters. Include suggestions to improve the visibility, audibility, memorability of each presentation. Include praise and appreciation, not just what you didn’t like!!

After the conference

  • If friends went to different workshops, talk over your respective workshops. This will have the advantage of firming up your memory on the ones you went to, as well as informing you about the ones you missed.
  • Make a collected list of all the items you want to follow up on, from all the workshops, and from the hallway conversations you had. Choose several each week to investigate. Don’t just keep the list in a safe place!
  • Check back at the conference website a week after the event. Sometimes there will be handouts or slideshows posted there.
  • Next winter, as you plan your crops, incorporate some of the best ideas you picked up, at least on a small scale.
  • Write down next year’s conference dates, so you don’t double book yourself!

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

Pam-blog1 jpgMy first blog post has now been posted on the Mother Earth News Organic Gardening Blog. You can read it here. It’s about reading and understanding the small print in seed catalogs. I wrote about it more fully here back in October. I plan to post there about once a month.

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

MENFairLogoOn the upcoming events front, I have now received confirmation from New Society Publishers and Mother Earth News that I will be a speaker at the Asheville, NC, MEN Fair, April 12-13 2014. I’ve offered several workshops – we’ll see which one they choose. I’m also working on a Saturday February 15 workshop with Cindy Conner and Ira Wallace at Lynchburg College, in SW Virginia. It will be from 10am to 3pm with a break for lunch. All three of us Virginia gardening authors will be selling our books there. When we’ve firmed up the topics I’ll let you know.

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love, by Kristin Kimball, Scribner, 2010 – Book Review

The Dirty LifeI feel drawn to autobiographies of women farmers, and Kristin Kimball’s story of growing food for a hundred people particularly appealed to me. I grow vegetables and some fruit for a hundred people at Twin Oaks Community, and our farming as a whole provides meat and dairy products too – what would be the points of similarity and of difference?

Kristin is a freelance writer from New York City. She interviews an energetic young farmer, gets pulled into joining in his work, and then moves from the city to start a new life with him. After some time looking for suitable land for free, they find the deeply run down Essex Farm. This book is the story of their first tumultuous year at Essex Farm (2003), operating a Full Diet CSA.

For farmers, this book will not be a cozy read – you’ll be on the edge of your chair! I probably got over half way through the book before I had any hope that they could succeed. Kristin and Mark’s success defies the quantity of hard work, the number of disasters and arguments, and their opposing strongly held opinions. And yet I know they succeeded, because several years have elapsed since the book was written and they are speaking at the Virginia Biological Farming Conference in February 2013. But my goodness, in the early days, they seemed doomed to fail.

Their Whole Diet CSA model is revolutionary not only in the range of food provided, but also in the radical distribution method, which is simplicity itself: “Take what you need.” They provide vegetables, fruit, herbs, maple syrup, flours, dried beans, eggs, milk, beef, chicken and pork, for $2900 (in 2010), on a sliding scale. The members can show up every Friday afternoon to collect what they need from what’s available. Some members live pretty much on the food from Essex Farm, and others also buy elsewhere. There were about 100 members in 2010.

Kristin starts from being a very soft-handed non-farming townie in tight jeans and heeled boots. She has a lot to learn! How will it ever work? Especially as Mark is experienced at farming and seemingly obsessed with working long hard hours in top gear. We don’t hear so much from Mark’s perspective, but Kristin does tell us that he avoids the word “work”, preferring to say “I farmed for 14 hours today.” I like that approach. Mark is an excellent cook as well as a very good farmer. Early in their relationship he kills a deer and cooks dinner. Kristin says “I fell in love with him over a deer’s liver.”

Mark has all the farming knowledge and plenty of opinions besides. He believes he has a magic circle around him, and that good things (such as a free farm) will manifest. Naturally enough, this is exasperating for Kristin, who is accused of draining the magic with her negativity. The clash of the earnest woo-woo hippie and the middle-class lover of manicures and foreign travel doesn’t look promising. Mark tells Kristin to give away her beautiful bed rather than bring it with her to the farm, as he will build a more beautiful bed. They sleep on a mattress on the floor for a very long time. How is this all going to lead to a thriving farm and two thriving farmers?

They (led by Mark) decide to farm in ways they enjoy even if they are less efficient: working horses, hand-milking, no fussing over picayune pricing of individual products. They move to Essex farm in early winter. There are tenants in the farmhouse, so they rent a place in town and commute to milk their cow, feed their chickens and restore the outbuildings. Meanwhile they make plans. Their plans are way beyond reasonable. In one week in February they intend to plan and build a greenhouse. The next week they will cut and split the whole year’s supply of firewood. They planned to hold their wedding in October, coinciding with 50 chicks arriving. Their honeymoon week they would also be extracting honey!

Kristin Kimball

Kristin Kimball

Kristin gets library books about construction and plumbing. She realizes how wrong her prejudice was, that manual workers are stupid and lazy. She gets herself through this big change in lifestyle by pretending she’s visiting a foreign land and will one day go home. She enjoys the present, the everyday, but doesn’t consider the hard work in the dirt and cold as a long-term lifestyle. She doesn’t want the emergencies – runaway cattle, freezing pipes, work at all hours, endlessly.

Despite the ill omens, they survive the winter (and we’re talking a long Northern winter here). “March was a tense and slightly dangerous time, like a border crossing between two conflicting countries. It’s not the deprivations of winter that get you, or the damp of spring, but the no-man’s land between.” The unpredictable weather, the dull and depressed fields. This resonated for me. When I lived and gardened on the Yorkshire Moors, I felt like this in March. Winter seemed endless, but it didn’t help to expect spring in March, because it just was too early. Now I’m in Virginia and we have weeks of work behind us by the end of March – winter is so much shorter.

During the maple syrup run, Kristin finds her feet, a job she excels at: evaporating the sap. She begins to love the work, seeing the connection between her actions and their consequences, believing in what she’s doing. She and Mark still argue a lot, with their different styles (passive-aggressive grudge-nurturer versus dog-like shaking of the issue.) Kristin sees that their arguments come from their two different basic fears: hers of poverty, debt and being enslaved to repayments; his of ruining themselves with overwork: “the farm gaining mass and speed until it ran over the farmer and squashed him.” He worried they’d be overwhelmed and life would not be fun anymore. Both problems are certainly deserving of fear. Organic farms fail most often from burnout or divorce. Kristin comments that they were fighting so much they could reach divorce before even reaching marriage.

Which farmer will not relate to this, my favorite quote from the book: “A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only things that must be done now, and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can’t, is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die. It’s blackmail, really.”

They somehow continue to build up the farm and by the time the ground has thawed [I wonder when that is in the Lake Champlain area?], they have seven paid up members for their CSA, and tensions recede. They have direction, purpose and a weekly goal. Neighbors and friends rally to help. The first week of their CSA they offer milk, meat, eggs, maple syrup and lard.

Once they reach June, the peak of the farming year, they are starting work at 3.45am and not finishing till 7pm (and even then they still have to lock up the chickens). Kristin even falls asleep on the seat of the cultivator. Mark seems to have “diabolical energy” and exuberance. Kristin is happy, working alongside Mark and walking the fields in the evenings, making more plans.

Kristin realizes “the things I admired most about him [Mark] in the abstract were what drove me nuts in the specific.” His beliefs were informed by his experiences and his research. He was uncomfortable with anything where he was unable to know and measure the impact – he wanted no part of it. He tried hard to live by his beliefs of low consumption, handmade items, responsible decisions. Kristin, for her part, was a hedonist with no particular ethic. Mark’s unbending strength carries him and the farm through very hard times. Unbending strength = rigidity = inflexibility = stubbornness. Kristin accommodates to Mark’s beliefs (perhaps another example of Mark’s good luck – without a partner like Kristin, flexible, hardworking, accepting,  he would not have made it)

The CSA membership reaches 30 by late summer. They realize the house will not be all fixed up in time for the wedding. Their “To Do” list includes “Find tables and chairs. Slaughter bull for ox roast. Butcher chickens for rehearsal dinner. Write vows.”  Kristin is still unsure she wants to marry Mark: “Poverty, unmitigated hard work, and a man whom, for all his good points, no reasonable person would describe as easy to be with.” She is very candid, very open about her doubts, to a level I feel uncomfortable with – it feeds my near-certainty that they’ll never make it. She is also very perceptive: “Marriage asks you to let go of a big chunk of who you were before, and that loss must be grieved. A choice for something and someone is a choice against absolutely everything else, and that’s one big fat goodbye.”

In October the wedding does happen (in case you too, were wondering), despite Kristin having flu and the baker having gone AWOL. It was a reflection of their farming: “exquisite, untidy, sublime and untamed”. I don’t know if the chicks arrived the same week, as originally planned. One month later, Kristin is on a two month writing assignment in Hawai’i. She feels a need to anchor herself by doing some farming, so she visits a vegetable grower. She is taken aback by the leisurely pace of harvesting, and records that that was the moment she made the emotional commitment to her marriage. She realizes the difficulties in her chosen life are hers by choice, and she can’t wait to get home.

When she gets home, Mark has settled into his own rhythm, and they work together looking for harmony, not for conflict. But this isn’t the sugar-coated happy-ever-after ending. Their marriage remains fiery. They engage a few interns each year, and employ some of the local people. CSA membership grows to a hundred. In year 4 their daughter is born and they buy part of the farm.

Kristin leaves us with these words of wisdom: “in my experience, tranquil and simple are two things farming is not. Nor is it lucrative, stable safe or easy. Sometimes the work is enough to make you weep.” And yet “A bowl of beans, rest for tired bones. . . . these things. . .  have comforted our species for all time, and for happiness’ sake they should not slip beneath our notice. Cook things, eat them with other people. If you can tire your own bones while growing the beans, so much the better for you.”

Phew! It worked out! Who needs suspense novels for winter reading when there are farming tales as gripping as this one? to read more, go to her website.