Big changes coming in 2017...Read More
Vanessa and I provide up to five lunches a week to our small farm crew. We have lots of great ingredients in the garden, but coming up with ideas can be challenging. The below books provide tonnes of inspiration, and, most importantly, contain recipes that are both solid AND not too precious. We love the cookbooks Rebar and Plenty, for example, but both of them tend to feature recipes with fancy-pants ingredients that we don't have.
I normally publish a farm journal in this space, but occasionally, I feel inspired to return to the short essay format I used to do for this paper. For that reason, I hereby interrupt your regularly scheduled farm journal. I hope you'll forgive me.
This particular essay is about bearings, but more specifically, the experience of losing them.
Last year was a good year on the farm. I exceeded my revenue targets, and my crop quality was respectable. But for me, and I suspect I'm not alone, my business is a house in a state of constant renovation. The house might already look pretty good, sure, but I always think it could look even better.
Heading into 2015, the 'better' I was after was a healthier balance between work and leisure. Last year, there were too many days in which the last hour I worked, usually keeping me outside into the seven or eight o'clock range, was one hour too long to be able to hang up my hat in a good mood. Worse, those late punch-outs were preventing me from enjoying one of the best things about living on a farm: preparing and enjoying food you grew yourself with people you care about.
Last November, I set a goal: that in 2015, I'd knock off work by 6pm at least five days a week, and take at least half of Sunday off. I couldn't afford to sacrifice revenues to do so, though, so I knew I'd have to improve my efficiency in order to realize it. Over two months, I analyzed all my systems every which way, and concluded that I was growing too many unprofitable types of veggies, I was spending too much time distributing my harvest, and that my early-Spring and late-Fall crops weren't worth the effort to produce them.
Eliminating veggies from one's crop plan is the farmer equivalent of a dad deciding which of his children he prefers. Theoretically, he's not supposed to have an opinion. But c'mon, dad; we all know your son Skyler is kind of a shit. In my case, I had a few kids like that. Cabbage, broccoli, kale, all the brassicas, really; none were profitable, either because of their going price, or because of the many pests that love them as much as you do. I eliminated them all, and replaced them with more of the salad greens that always seemed to be in short supply last year.
An even harder decision was to eliminate my Westbank and Penticton home delivery routes in favour of sales elsewhere. It felt like I was letting down some loyal customers. Probably because I was. But those routes were serious time-sucks compared to some of my other options for selling my stuff.
So here's the problem: some renovations are so drastic that, right in the middle of them, you don't even recognize your house, and you're not sure you made the right choices. A week ago, a colleague asked me how my season was going, and I didn't know what to tell him, because I wasn't sure. With less early-Spring production, I had skipped the first few Penticton Farmers' Markets. That gave me some extra time off, much of which I spent fretting that I wouldn't make up the income in the main season.
So far, I've been knocking off work by 6pm most of the time. Mission accomplished, right? Except, well, no, maybe not. I won't truly know until the end of the year, when I can tally my gross sales. I still need to court some new restaurant customers, expand my home delivery program for Peachland, and, overall, find a home for all the crops I shifted from the shoulder seasons into the main one.
Which is why it feels like I've lost my bearings a bit. The farm I'm running is a lot different than the one that too frequently made me grumpy last year. And there's a very real possibility that, come Fall, I'll realize that all my extra free time hurt my bottom line. It's nerve-wracking.
But I've got to try. As Gandalf told Frodo, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." And I've decided that at six, I'd really like to enjoy a good meal and a glass of wine with my wife, rather than weed just one more bed.
4/15: The problem with publishing a seasonal farm journal, even a slightly made-up one like this, is that it overlooks a lot of details that it would appear people want to know about, judging by how often I'm asked about my Winter comportment . Through the cold months, the farm sleeps, but not the farmer; not all the time, anyway. And so, with another season of producing dispatches from the farm for this fine paper set to begin, I thought it best to start by catching you up on things. Here's a monthly recap:
November is the coldest month of the year. Probably not for you, mind you; but it's the month I tend to be most miserly with my use of wood for the stove, in order to account for the likley accurate prediction that my supply is insufficient to last the Winter. If only I could bottle the heat generated during my summer efforts to cut, haul, split and stack it, a surfeit of which tends to make me miserable in my sawing pants, which is why I never seem to be able to procure enough. The takeaway here is that what I do in November is shiver. And fend off dirty looks from Vanessa, whose circulation is less vigorous, and sweaters more threadbare.
Decemeber is generally when Vanessa and I are both free enough to travel together. Our plan for some time in New Orleans started inauspiciously when I awoke on departure day with a violent flu. My belly having decided to write 'Return to Sender' on any and all oral Gravol I sent it, Vanessa decided to swing in to a Bellingham Walmart for the suppository kind. Which is how we learned that suppository Gravol cannot be got over the counter in Washington State like it can in BC. We delayed our trip by a day. In retrospect, I'm glad. I suspect I wouldn't have enjoyed the Gravol much. On the fun scale, Flintstone Vitamins they're not. New Orleans was great.
January is spent crop-planning (hours and hours), purchasing seeds, and reevaluating my business model, which is always in danger of rusting. This year brought some big changes. I've given up my Penticton, Summerland, and Westbank home delivery customers to focus exclusively on Peachland, and will be offering fully customizable orders this year. With no commitment required! This is not usually done in such veggie programs. It's scary and exciting for me all at the same time.
February and March I attended some farming conferences in Wisconsin (-20C, 3500 organic farmers) and San Diego (+20C, 700 Permaculturalists) and then returned here and hit the ground running due to this zany Spring we're having. I've been farming in earnest ever since.
4/16: It's so damned dry. It's my fifth start to a season in Peachland, and I've never had to be so focused on irrigating so early. Most people are thrilled, I know, but all I can think about is the small snowpack and the forest fire season we're going to have if we don't get some rain. Incidentally, it's this kind of Spring that can seduce many home gardeners into planting their summer crops out too early. It's important to remember that we're still likely to see a frost or two, so tomatoes and cukes and beans and corn should only be left out overnight if they're covered. The frost-hardy crops are in heaven right now, though, aren't they? Don't be shy to plant out your kale and lettuce and peas and parsley and onions. Talk to you again in four Views.'
4/20: I love this time of year because of the blank canvas it represents. A farming career, especially one started by a neophyte in his twenties, is a series of mistakes that generally can't be corrected until one year hence. April 20 is generally late enough to feel the promise of a great season ahead of you, but early enough that you haven't made any big mistakes yet. May they be few and far between this year!
April 26: Another reason to enjoy Spring on the farm is that the wildlife is particularly diverse, and active. As a veggie grower, I spend all my time with flora, which makes the fauna on display of late, even the subset that makes things harder for me, kind of a treat. Yesterday, I found a frog hanging out in one of the greenhouses, far from the nearest pond or stream. I don't know how he got there or where he went afterward, but I bet he's been enjoying the spiders and pill bugs hanging out under the ever-growing canopy of the zucchini in there.
Also, there are bees everywhere, thanks to a local beekeeper who recently dropped off one of his hives here. It didn't take long for at least one bear to find out, which toppled the hive almost immediately. The hive was intact when we found it, which means that the bear left with no honey and sore snout.
Five years in to my tenure here, the critters continue to surprise me, as they did in the middle of my recent microgreens experiment. Are you an aspiring entrepreneur with a proclivity to pedantry? Consider growing microgreens for chefs. They're worth big bucks, if you can successfully manipulate their growing conditions just so to achieve the yields they're capable of.
Normally grown in greenhouse trays in the nursery, I decided to try growing them in garden beds. Seeds of various plants--peas, sunflowers, flax, buckwheat, broccoli, radish, basil, and on and on--are planted extremely densely on the surface of the soil. They're prone to drying out this way, so I cover them with corrugated plastic while they're germinating. It took me about an hour to sprinkle, gingerly**, the seeds of about ten different plants in short blocks in a garden bed, to ensure their distribution was just right.
Which is why I was nonplussed to discover, upon lifting up the plastic covers a couple days later, numerous beetles scattering for cover, and that many of the larger seeds had been rearranged into small piles, but otherwise unmolested. It appears that the beetles, seemingly appearing from the ether, had collectively decided to reorder the furniture I had so carefully laid out on their carpet. Their decision, though bad for my bottom line, was good for my sense of wonder, which otherwise seems to be waning with age. For that, I'll continue to tolerate whatever Stonehenges these beetle druids are intent on erecting.
May 12: Nothing motivates one like the fear of public embarassment. Last season, colleague Jennay Oliver, owner of Paynter's Fruit Stand, grew an enormous pumpkin for a local brewery's batch of Halloween ale. I told her I thought I could grow a bigger one. We now have a bet going. The loser will be subjected to a public display of his or her endorsement of the other's farm business. I planted my seeds early, which are now healthy seedlings, ready to plant. While I'm at it, I'll see about claiming top prize for largest pumpkin at the Peachland Fall Fair in September. My entry last year didn't even come close.
Folks, with the aforementioned wedding involved planning that dominated my early October, and I just didn't have it in me to plan a Halloween event for the kids this year. I apologize. I hope your kids have lots of fun trick or treating. I'll aim to do something fun next year.
I've purchased five cookbooks in the last couple of weeks. Don't tell Vanessa, since she's always trying to keep our bank balance big and my waistline small.
I'll recommend two of them, both of which have produced only home runs so far:
September 14: I've been keeping a journal of farm life for readers this year. Excepting the odd fictional flourish thrown in for good measure, it has been a true account of my farming experiences, neurotic internal dialogues, and foibles. And it's almost complete. I have a good, lucky feeling that I'll close this thing out by Thanksgiving, which, though not technically the end of my season, is about the point that my joie de vivre gives way to a soif de sommeil. Plus, I subscribe to the notion that an entertainer should always try to leave them wanting more. Though in my case I should probably aim a little lower: I'll be satisfied if I leave you not wanting less.
September 26: Last night I gave a talk to a dulcet group of listeners at The Bohemian Cafe, where the Okanagan Institute stages a bi-monthly speaker series. The gist of my speech: stop revering small-scale farmers. Stop demonizing big farmers. Realize we all face tough choices between stewardship and profit on a regular basis. Had you heard the whole speech it would have seemed a lot less like the verbal equivalent of a wet blanket. I hope.
September 30: Rhetorical question: what's more fun, giving a speech to adults at The Bohemian or giving a farm tour to a bunch of six year old girl guides and a few moms this eve? I'll answer your question, Mr. Question Asker in my head, with some of my own. Did the Okanagan Institute give me Girl Guide Cookies--two boxes!--as a thank you? Did a Bohemian attendee peer into a box of old veggies we were about to feed the horses and check with me to make sure horses "like gross food?" Did anyone at the Bohemian ask their mom to bring up a smartphone photo of the giant pumpkin she grew and proudly show it to me? Did anyone at the Bohemian buy me a cocktail? Actually, yes, yes they did. That was pretty cool. And the girl guides did not ply me with any booze. So, that's a point off, girl guides, and an improvement you may want to consider for next time. But you still win, hands down.
October 7: While at market in Penticton last Saturday, two chefs from Joy Road Catering approached my left flank, armed with, like, a honker of a loaf of sourdough bread. Turns out they baked it using wheat I grew for fun last season, that I "donated" to them in a very annoying, unthreshed form. They had etched little wheat plants in the crust. It tasted like a warm embrace. And it was so damned big. I greedily ate four slices doused in home-made apricot jam when I got home, and barely dented it. I carved off a hunk and gave it to Joe and Jess, who were as tickled as I was to eat bread made from our farm's wheat. Another hunk's worth of slices went to propping up a lemony zucchini hash I made for dinner the next night, and I still had enough for the 3/4 of a pound I needed for a French tomato and bread soup we had for lunch the following day. Oh, man. Full belly, happy heart.
October 8: Thanksgiving this weekend. Perhaps not my favourite holiday--I'm a sucker for eggnog and full stockings--but probably the most meaningful for me. Traditionally, a time set aside to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, a notion that is still very relevant for us here. So much can go wrong in any given farming season. And some stuff does. But this year, it mostly didn't. We had enough water pressure all season. That's a big one. I found the markets necessary to absorb our expanded garden. The deer behaved. So did the marmots. And we enjoyed a lot of support--from Joe and Jess as always, but also from Ryan, and Ian, our stellar farmhands, and Nicole, and from our customers--Jennay over at Paynter's Fruit Market, Harry and Brenda at IGA, Noreen at Nature's Fare, Our chefs at Joy Road, Hillside, Lake Breeze, Vanilla Pod, Brodo, Local, Blue Rooster. And of course, all of the eaters who shopped at our market stall or subscribed to our veggie program. A heartfelt thank you to all of those people. And to anyone who took the time to read these stupid journal entries all year. Have a great Winter.
**drops mike to look cool, subsequently trips over it**
Well folks, it's all wrapping up. I hope you've enjoyed the season. Thanks for participating! Below you can find out when your last veggies will be (or were) delivered. If you can't find your name, maybe email or phone me if you're concerned.
Last delivery last week:
Last delivery this week:
Last delivery next week:
1. Carrot harvest. Ryan's photo.
2. Onion harvest.
This week's veggie bags feature squash. You'll receive either an acorn (green to black skin), a delicata (white/yellow with dark stripes), a sugar pumpkin, a spaghetti (pale yellow), or some combination. We've included sage as your herb this week. In general, it's a great herb to pair with squash.
Below are some recipe options.