Apple Crates

Last week I had discovered several gems on Craig’s List. Some, like the apple crates, are (ahem) starting to bear fruit. After much phone tag the owner of the apple crates and I hooked up last weekend and I ran out to grab them. The owner of the crates is an 80 yr old former orchardist/farmer on what is now the southern edge of Monona, WI a suburb of Madison. The sprawl is literally at his lot line, but his property is still a fantastic haven of diversity -my 6yr old son counted 10 woodpeckers as we loaded and the sound of Sandhill Cranes was constant. Luckily he refused the developers huge sum for his land, but only because the City wouldn’t approve any more development. Instead the City ended up paying him 7 figures to turn it into a park. Prime farm land will now hold play systems and soccer fields. This story must find a better ending soon, but that is another post.

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Beautifully old and used, they are even better than I expected with alot of useful life left in them. So I filled the trailer with 48 of them as one of my farming partners wanted “20 or so”. They each hold a bushel and will work fantastic for harvesting root crops and perhaps even peppers. With 1500lbs of potatoes expected for late July harvest this will work fabulous! For tomatoes I will probably take a 10 or so and modify them down to 6″ deep so as to not crush the more delicate fruits. This half bushel size will also work better for selling at the stand. $48 for a useful piece of history. Fabulous!

After we were finished loading I asked him if he had any other tools that he wanted to sell, hoping to fall into one of my lucky finds. You never know unless you ask. And, boy am I glad I did! Check this out:

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For the princely sum of $6 I got this gorgeous (and heavy!) counterbalance scale for the market stand. With almost no adjustment it read true-those monster onions are 14 oz each. Some elbow grease and this will be (even more!) fantastic. WOW! Not bad for $54 and an afternoon!

In my continuing stream of progress I am meeting with the Guinea Pig Manure Lady (her name is Susan) tomorrow to see if the 250 gallons/wk she is offering will work for a composting operation. Price delivered? Free.

-Rob

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Sunflower Powered Tilling: Sunny Fuel Part Duex

I love sunflowers.  The incredible amount of sheer LIFE that they put forth in a season is awe inspiring.  Watch a Mongolian Giant grow in less than 4 months to the same 14′ height it takes 70-80 months for even a fast tree and you get a feel for what I mean.  Plus they are gorgeous, attract lots of benifical bugs and feed the birds in their critical late season fuel up for their migrations.

But I have a wicked strong practical streak (in case you haven’t noticed) so I look for other things ways that plants can  help out on the farm.  And Sunflowers function stack in spades!  Whether it is turning Sunchokes into Ethanol, or growing annual Sunflowers for their oily seeds you can fuel your farm with them!  With my latest craze being a diesel mini-tractor I have veggie oil (straight vegetable oil i.e. SVO) and bio diesel on the brain.  In the last several posts I said I could grow sunflowers to fuel the tractor.  That is not entirely true.  Well, actually it is, but it isn’t nearly as easy I had thought.  I spent several hours today reading much of Journey to Forever’s freaky informative pages on SVO, Biodiesel, and everything in between.  When I need to answer a sustainability question I either go to ATTRA of JTF and they have almost never failed to steer me right.

There is a strong mis-perception out there, that I had subscribed too, that you can take vegetable oil and run your diesel on it.  And you can, but it needs to be really warm out and you must have an engine built for it (like the original diesels).  Today’s engines are designed to run on refined low sulfur diesel, which has a much lower viscosity and better burn than SVO, but also makes them perfectly compliant for biodiesel.  You can modify a diesel to run on SVO, but it takes alot of stuff like secondary fuel tanks, built in fuel heaters, modified injectors, etc and it won’t really work on an air cooled walk behind tractor.

So I can’t just take sunflowers and  squeeze the seeds into the tank without killing my un-killable tractor.  I have known that making biodiesel is, well, if not easy then certainly not hard… especially given the fact that my eco peer group here in Jefferson County just built a machine to turn woodchips into hydrogen/methane gas to run a 65hp “Straight 6” (pics to come once we hook the engine up in April!).   When you first read about making biodiesel it can seem really damn scary.  Words like Methanol, Potasium Hydroxide, “causitc burns”, “poisonous fumes”, etc can turn you off real quick.  But then you dig a little deeper and you learn that Methanol is basically Kingsford lighter fuel, Potasium Hydroxide is just lye and used as draincleaner and the same warnings are found in the same chemicals that many of us used to keep under our bathroom sinks.  It isn’t that bad, it just needs a marketing department.

The chemistry is not that complicated, but the set up looks a bit involved I admit.  However, I really like JTF’s 5 gallon mini batch set-up as it would make a 1-2 year supply, or enough to help fuel several of my friends TDI’s if I used it every month or so.  It seems to be about the right size and within the relm of talent that I have surrounded myself with.

Back to the sunflowers.  So how much can I expect to get?  JFT’s sources claim 102 gallons of oil per acre.  That is alot of oil from the sunflowers, and the left over mash makes good chicken/pig feed and you still have those 14′ stalks for mulch!  I certainly have the available land to grow a .25 acre stand, and I would just need to fab up a home oil press.  Again not too hard if you have access to a machine shop, a welder, or if no one else will help, the A-Team… if you can find them.

The final thing that had me concerned about all this is the glycern/methanol/lye stew that you are left with after you get your biodiesel. None of those sounds real, er, benign and I am certainly not going to take something as inert as a sunflower seed and turn it in to hazardous waste.  But JFT has the answer to that too.  You’re gonna love this… COMPOST! Once you skim off the biodiesel, which itself is biodegradable, you can then separate the by product back into its three parts: Methanol (to be reclaimed in a condenser for reuse), Free Fatty Acids (which you can mix with sawdust and burn to heat the next batch of biodiesel or you can compost it too) and Glycerin which makes a good all purpose degreaser, but can easily be composted  and if you used Potassium Lye as a catalyst you now are adding potassium to your compost pile.  Nice!

This was a nice 800 word way for me to say that making fuel for a tractor this size, or even significantly larger, on site is very doable-devoting 1 acre and a few hours a month can net you about 80 gallons of biodiesel, which is about 40 times more than I will probably need (if I am tilling up an extra acre), or put .25 acres under and get 20 gallons in about 4 batches.  Nice, scaleable, and very user friendly.

I now call my Sunday Research Project to a close!

-Rob

Grillo, Grillo on the wall…

Fellow Blogger Fat Guy on a Little Bike answered the call for Devils Advocate in a recent comment (below) and his points are valid.  As there may be others that may be thinking of this down the road I decided to give my replies the room of a post rather than a comment.  Hell its my blog, eh?  Before I begin answering, let me again say that I appreciate the comments and their effect in helping me clarify my thoughts some -this is tough!

Have you thought about using a broadfork? Eliot Coleman claims you can use a broadfork for up to 2 acres fairly easily. And if you hired a person or two you could make that 4 or 6 acres. Assuming $15 an hour that would be 310 hours before the tractor comes out ahead of labor, and that’s just with the cost of the machinery not upkeep or running costs. (In 5 years you’ll have two children who might be able to operate a broadfork, especially if Dad shows them a little green)

With your incredible sheet mulching knowledge you can use the worms to do most of the work and use the fork to finish it off.

However, I understand that you are busy enough right now and time savings can be more important than money savings. If the tractor freed up 20 more hours a year to build rain barrels it would pay for itself in about 3 years.

The tractor sounds like a great deal, I’m just trying to take the contrary position. The tractor might help you with your past ideas about cutting wood too.

Broadforks: I have given much thought to it, talking with E4 at Green, Blue, Brown about his quite a bit last year and using a friend’s recently purchased one. The problem is that they are a soil “lifting” tool to combat deep soil compaction, not a soil turning tool to combat weeds like quack and ivy that defy even regular light cultivation using wheel hoes. In that capacity lifting 1-2 acres would not be that bad, but they will not fit my need for breaking established pasture and keeping the weeds at bay while servicing paying customers.  Once the beds are established, a broadfork would do wonders.  Universal consensus is to go with the curved tined forks from Johnny’s Seeds rather than the cheaper straight tined ones.  They work MUCH better.

Coleman: In his book, The New Market Grower, Coleman devotes most of an entire chapter to “tools” where he mentions the broadfork, garden carts, etc  and he also spends ALOT of time praising his Goldini walk behind tractor (12hp if I remember) that he brought back from his apprenticeship in France where they apparently grow on Italian Trees. 2 years ago when I read his book is when I first began dreaming of these tools, but the need for one was very far off.   Actually Coleman’s realiance on very heavy and alarmingly frequent cultivation was one of the impetuses to spur me to try to find a better way which, in turn, led to thousands of pages of fascinating research.   I still hope I can, but the light controlled tilling (its called Conservation Tillage in Big Ag world) that I had planned with wheel hoes and chickens in my Sub Acre Ag plan is wavering in the light of the amount of time I must spend pulling the perennial grasses out of the Hoop House every single time I am out to check on it.  Those two small beds (less than 10% of the Market Garden) are very good tests into what I can expect at the Market Garden as they were perennial pasture last fall when we tilled them under.  The annual plants are gone. but the thistle and rhizomitous grasses are back in force.  I hope very much to find a middle ground between tilling reflexively after every crop, and losing the battle to weeds.  I don’t know what the answer is here and plan on trying several theories and comparing soil tests and other data for several years.  Also, I will not be able to have chickens at the Market Garden after all, which takes alot of the momentum out of that plan.

I will stand by my $30/hr figure as $15 is not really what I call a living wage (damn tough to raise a family on it, though thousands do) and with my 50% entrepreneur (total) tax bracket that is the min I bill myself. A farming Mentor of mine once told me that “…if you don’t value your time well, no one else will either…” Kids will be an option in about 5 years though.

Worms will be a huge part of the deal, and the tractor would be mostly used in the first 1-3 years of the beds. In 3 years in my home gardens I have beat the quack to a detente , freeing time to double the number of beds last year with little increase in time spent in the garden. I am hoping for a similar expansion at the Market Garden -I hope to handle about 10,000sq ft of fresh beds (with their intense time commitment in weed control) while established beds need only a fraction of the time to maintain -I get most of my weeding done during harvest and watering down time. So the tractor will spend most of its time on the leading edge of the gardens, which will expand out every 2-3 years as mulching takes over the weeding duties in the established beds until I hit the max of about 1 acre for 1 person, part time with help.

The main driver in my mind for this tractor at this time, is that it can do a BETTER job than the mid size ride-on tractor with the 48″ rototiller.  The 48″ tiller on the back of the land owner’s Kubota will need to take 2, and probably 3 passes over several weeks to till the soil and remove much of the weeds-possibly forming a hardpan layer if the soil is wet at all.  That is 2-3 passes with a 2 ton tractor on soil that has not been compacted in 25 years (pasture the whole time) doing damage that will take years to erase in the subsoil.  The Grillo only weighs 300lbs, and the rotary plow will not create hardpan, and may do the work in one pass, maybe more if I use it to make the beds, which significantly reduces the trauma to the soil critters and fungi.  This will be true for every bed that I cut, not only the 15,000 sq ft I am turning under this year, but as I expand and at all the beds I may be helping clients at.  If I get the Grillo, I plan on photo, and perhaps video, documenting much of the ground work to sell the ease of it (if it turns out to be easy!) to others as a service I can provide.

The implement issue that FGLB raises is a point in the Grillo’s favor.   The purchase of one engine will allow for flexibility to do the work of 5-6 other tools that I may or may not ever need (chipper, log splitter, snow blower, tiller, plow, heavy duty mower and ATV [you can put trailers w/ seats on them to turn them into 4 wheel vehicles that can do about 10mph]).  The implements for many of these cost virtually as much as the stand alones, but as they are driven by a 8-12hp engine they pack ALOT more whallup (the snow blower throws snow over phone lines).  As these tractors last 10-20 years it is nice to know that flexibility is there.  You can still get attachments or adapters for the 1980’s models if you can find them used, which I can’t.

I am sorry to keep beating this horse, but a purchase of this magnitude is a Big Deal, and I appreciate all the input from you all as I work through it.  Where I am at now, is that I will order the tractor w/plow and tiller if the barrel bid is accepted.  If not then I will continue with plans as they were 2 weeks ago -borrow the Kubota and till away.  I will not take on $5k in debt as we head into a recession if I can’t gaurantee to have it paid off in 2 months. I am convinced that the ROI of this tool in revenue, sustainability, and time is proven.  But the ability to sanely afford it is up for some debate.

-Rob

Shakespearean Dilemna

Ok, that may be overkill, but I am chewing on something. And since my avid readers have a combined intellect and experience base far outweighing my own I am going to loop you all in to help me wrestle with it.  Anyhow, writing helps me clarify my thoughts.
To be blunt I am seriously considering buying a tractor. Now I am not just any (would be) farmer -heck, I don’t really have a farm yet. So I am not considering just any tractor. Mine would be little, and European even… So little in fact, that you walk behind it. No, this isn’t a rototiller (but it can do that) it is a Two Wheel, or Walk Behind, Tractor. The engines are typically twice as strong as a rototiller -from 7 to 15 hp- and unlike a tiller they have front and rear Power Take Offs (PTO’s) that can run a variety of implements from tillers, to snow blowers, to chippers, to sickle bar mowers. Heck they even make haying equipment for them. With the exception of bucket loading, these incredible little tractors can do just about everything one would need on a sub 10 acre parcel… exactly the size I will buy in about 3 years.

These “walking tractors” are all over the place in Europe, where the small Family Farm is still alive, with almost a dozen manufactures of various models. If you have any doubts as to what these are capable of, here is the site I first found them on back when I was doing initial budget runs on the Big Farm Plan an was pricing small tractors. The larger ones can even run Spaders (mimics double digging instead of plowing) and you can get powered trailers that can haul/dump over 1000lbs. The utility and appropriateness of them is well proven, but the appropriateness of them for ME is up to debate.

First, let it be plainly said that I am a “Tool Guy”. I have geeked out on stuff, often with internal combustion engines attached, since high school. I’ve modified every car I’ve ever owned but my current Insight, and raced many of them. I like to have oil and grease under my fingernails and even to bur my knuckles swapping out shocks. But I also enjoy well made tools of any kind: I have an inordinate affection for my imported Dutch and German spades and forks (hand forged by master tool makers of course). But that ToolGuy bravado is running on OT when it comes to these tractors. “think of all the stuff we could do!” Trouble…

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Some of the Pros (some of dubious merit).

  1. Buy now, so I can buy more later! I will most likely want one of these when we have the acreage, but once we have the acreage there will be 100 things I will need to spend money on. I can’t buy a pole barn or fence now, but I can buy the tractor -and these things last forever. Of course I could just SAVE the money, but heck I am American and I want it NOW!
  2. Its better for the soil. To till under the land for the gardens, the tractors that are lined up to do it weigh in at over 4000lbs causing deep subsoil compaction well below what conventional tillage equipment can reach. The Walking Tractor only weighs about 300-and will compact the soil about as much as walking on it and the tiller’s handles rotate so you can walk next to, not in, the tilled soil.  See the video link below.
  3. Rotary Plow option. WTH is rotary plow? Think of it as a horizontal tiller, or more precisely a propeller. They are unparalleled at turning under cover crops and pasture. Look at this Italian video to see the short work it makes of the sod. Rotary Plows also leave no hardpan, unlike moldboard or rototillers, and til down to 12″ in one pass.
  4. Diesel: At only 8hp, these tiny engines use only 33% of the gas equivalent, so Whole Foods becomes my fuel station as they could run all year on 2-3 quarts of Organic Canola Oil, or I could grow sunflowers and press my own oil. Seriously, I’ve run the math.
  5. Bigger and Better things. This is a slippery slope, but I turned down at least one large runoff control swale installation job due to lack of equipment. I could also offer more options with our LLC if I had one of these.  Look at the ditch the rotary plow digs in 3 passes in the video- that would make a wicked infiltration swale! Course I barely have time to plant (hell: sleep!) as it is, like I said: Slippery….
  6. In the same vein, I could probably work twice the acreage with this tractor, than doing it entirely by hand. Or I could just get farther behind… this thing won’t weed, plant, or harvest.
  7. I really, really, really want one. Really.

Cons, and they are significant:

  1. Really damn expensive. To run the rotary plow you need 8.5hp gas or 7hp diesel. Going with the lesser know, but just as good, Grillo line instead of the slightly more common BCS , I can get a diesel 85D for $2600, plus the plow for $1050, plus shipping of $300. Basically it is $4000 for a glorified rototiller. Damn. Used you may say? The market is so small I have only found 3 for sale in the entire country and 2 are too small to run the rotary plow, and the third isn’t diesel and will most likely go for almost as much as new.
  2. I don’t really need it. With only a .25 acre garden this tractor is waaaaaay overkill. If I ramp up the LLC some it might get more use, but rarely even weekly. Even valuing my time at $30/hr it will take 130 hours of labor savings to offset the cost. I will not spend that much time tilling/cutting beds in the next 3-5 years. Once I get a farm? Maybe -especially if I use it to clear a longish drive of snow.
  3. WTH is “Mr. No Till” buying a tiller for? Spending the morning turning, or attempting to turn, under the 4″ of straw in my home beds showed me the futility of that much straw on the beds if you hop to plant before May. Ruth Stout pulled hers off, but I need that organic matter IN the soil. Research has shown me that no till is undeniably the way to go as tilling supercharges the ecosystem and sucks the carbon from the soil. But these studies were all done on huge, unmulched row crop fields. I can’t believe that turning in 2lbs of straw per sq foot of bed is a net loss to the soil, but the current research is against me. I am also terrified of the perennial weeds in these new beds -but I am eating some of my winter words. I could also just chop up the straw in a leaf shredder for $250 before I put it on the beds.
  4. Noise, smell, safety etc. Driving a tractor across my beds is a different deal completely than slowly working my way down with a turning spade and listening to the meadowlarks. Also, the kids would not really be an option on Grillo days since the machine will take most of my attention and I won’t be able to hear a rambunctious 6 yr old running up behind me due to noise. They have learned not to come by the electric mower, but still.

The tiller was barely a distant consideration until I found that used one on Craig’s list (too late!) and my brain starting going again. The price may be less of an issue for two reasons -it is a business expense so it will offset a goodly chunk of the business earnings saving me from the insane taxes of the self employed.

But here is the final blow. Just as I was working myself down from the lather of the week’s testosterone tractor dreaming, I get a call out of the blue from a large (100 barrel) municipal rain barrel account that I thought was a one time deal. They want me to bid an order that will net me about 50% more than the price of the Grillo.
Coincidence…or a Divine nudge? I had started our LLC to basically turn my garden/farming into a self funded hobby rather than to make extra money. The timing of that account is weird, and we are a family that believes in “signs”…

Thoughts are welcome. But then again this, like many in our hobbies, may not end up being a rational decision.  I am calling Earth Tools tomorrow to order some more hoes (Dutch of course), and I am sure I will be picking their brains on this.

-Rob

Success!

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I did it! I harvested a Target bag full of Spinach and Mache before April!!

This is the crop that was direct seeded on 10/22/07 and had its first (of MANY!) sub zero frosts within 4 weeks. This is the crop that survived the 2nd hardest winter on record for these parts. This is the crop that I had all but given up for dead at least twice when temps bottomed below zero for a week. This is the crop that has filled me to brimming with enthusiasm for 2008.  I have never harvested so early!

The plants are barely 3″ tall -they are hugging the warm earth in the hoop house-but they had enough leaves that I was able to take several from 2 out of 3 plants. I have less than 36 sq ft of Spinach planted, and only about 12 of the mache, but I am very impressed with the yeild! Best yet I shared 2/3 of the first harvest -first share went to the farmer whose land I am using, second share to a super sweet 86 year old woman who still garden/farms her 40 acres (she refused to take it as a gift and gave us a half pint of raspberry jam). Thank to Eliot Coleman and the guts to ask a neighbor to use their land at least 3 families are enjoying fresh spinach salad in the last week of March. Be the Change!

Other aspects of this very successful day:

  • Sprout and I mixed and sifted up a double wheel barrow of potting mix (compost:sand:soil:peat)
  • Started 800 lettuce plants in flats: 700 for me 100 for the farmer
    • The farmer has a massive heating mat greenhouse apparatus setup for my use -this is unreal
  • Started 160 tomato transplants
  • Turned 4 of my 7 beds (1 in garlic, 1 under rye/vetch, one left fallow for now) to get the straw under
    • This barely feels like tilling- the soil is so friable that I can sink the fork in completely without stepping on it
  • Started hardening off the next crop of mache: two flats
  • Planted 80 row feet of peas (40 snap, 40 edible pods)
  • Talked with Kevin from Edible Forest Nursery about my previously purchased heirloom pear tree when he came into the greenhouse/shed to get his pruning supplies. I will harvest it next weekend. It is 10′ tall and bore fruit last year.
    • The entire Forest Nursery is on the farm as well -a super happy Hmong family also grows there too along with one or two other folks… it is a veritable sustainable mecca.

Put it all together… today was damn near perfect.

Craig’s List Weekend

We are out of town visiting family in South Dakota. Both Mia and I are alumn of the University of South Dakota (Anthropology and Philosophy respectively) and her parents and one of her sisters live here as well. I had some time to myself yesterday and hit Craigslist and found some real doozey’s.

Number 1: BCS tractor w/ 18″ tiller & sickle bar mower $500

This tiller is 20 years old so finding attachments will be tough, but that price is great and the Briggs engine is reportedly strong and should be easy to convert to pure ethanol (a home still is the next project). I know, you may be asking WTH I am looking at tillers for as I am designing a no-till market garden. Well, frankly I am facing the reality of perrenial weeds in the Hoop House. I am already losing the fight with perennial grasses, thistles, and other weeds which is making the vit growth a chore. Weeding this 100 sq feet of bed is already a bit much. Magnify that by literally 14x and you may sense some of my trepidation. Both market gardens are currently under established pasture, which means fantastic living soil, and thick established perennial grasses. At least in year one the weeds will be a significant issue. I will either need to stop planning to use dense bed planting to allow for mechanical light cultivation between rows with wheel hoes, or plan on doing mechanical cultivation between plantings -chicken tractors will not root out quack grass. Hence the BTS. Maybe… the ad is a month old. No-Till should be possible in year two as the “mirror” bed will be under dense smothering covercrops like sorghum/sudan grass for the year.

Number 2: Apple Crates 200+ for $1/each

Harvesting, storing, and marketing two tons of produce means that my small harvest basket will not be sufficient by a long shot. I had planned on using rubbermaid totes since they are (relatively) inexpensive and virtually indestrucable. But then I saw this ad and the possibilities seemed endless. Apple Crates will add a level of nostalgia to the market stand, I can wash the produce right in them, and in my recent reading of Root Cellaring the authors recommend apple crates for storage of potatoes -and I will have 1500lbs of those. Praying he emails me back!

Number 3 Guinea Pig and Rabbit Rescue looking for farm to take 250 gallons (1.1 yards) of manure weekly. Will deliver. Free.

No I am not making this up. The ad even says they feed the rabbits organic produce and will do weekly drop offs along the Interstate I live on. I understand that it takes a “special” man to be this excited about 800lbs of guinea pig crap delivered weekly to their door, but there it is. 250 gallons/wk equals about 64 yards of raw material annually. Which will break down to about 25-30 yards of finished compost for the market gardens when I factor in the surplus from the cover crops. Elliot Coleman spreads 50 tons of manure/acre annually on his gardens, so this one source would give me a 200% surplus in compost (one yard of manure is about .75 tons) for my .25 acres which would allow for the supplying of our Earth Victory Gardens with homegrown compost in Yr 2. If the rescue can’t find a home it will be going to the landfill. Again… fingers crossed on the email response!

3 potentially great solutions to some of my problems. All local, all reused. I love Craig’s list.

Hoping that Spring will finally be here to stay when we return. We got about 12″ of snow over the weekend, and I didn’t get my peas in (forgot to order inoculate!), but it was too early anyhow. Next week should have the first harvest from the Hoop House -can you say mache and spinach salad? I can!!!

-Rob

Woodbury County, Iowa: Organic Mecca

I have passed on numerous intersting business models for smal scale agriculture, typically in Urban settings.  And while getting more farming infrastructure in our cities is critical, equally as important is saving the rural, family farms of our country.    While here in Jefferson County, WI we have enacted some very strong land use laws to restrict sprawl ( you only get one or to “splits” per property) it is really a bandaid that is not addressing the root problem.  The average farmer is at or near retirement age, many (if not most) of their children are moving to cities for better prospects, and while there is a rising tide of young, enthusiastic would-be farmers (myself included) the start-up costs of even a small farm are often insurmountable.  I figure to start a small 5 acre farm w/equipment in the county I live in would costs at least $350,000 (fixer upper) and net me less than my current job while doubling my mortgage.  Should I want to grow organic commodity crops like wheat or hay, or start a dairy on much large acreage (even a small scale 100 acre farm) the cost gets up to $750,000+ with a run down house and 30 year old equipment, but the economic prospects are not much better than a small, intensive vegetable operation.  This is completely untenable -trust me I check the listings weekly, and have crunched the numbers ad nauseum.

But there are areas of light: the Pacific NW, the coastal regions of Maine, Viroqua County WI, and oddly enough  Woodbury County, Iowa.  Woodbury Organics has produced a short video on You Tube as a marketing tool to get the word out for the incredible efforts they are doing in their county.  When I found it, 5 months after it was posted, it had only 310 views.  Watch it, rate it, and add a brief comment…there efforts need WAY more recognition.  Also, check out their Letter to the Public on their site.     Here is a short list of the great things they are doing as an organization and/or have gotten enacted in their County -the first two blew me away:

  • 3 year 100% property tax refund for conventional land being converted to organic to offset loss in revenue while in transition
  • Low/Zero interest loans availible to new farmers -including (I still can’t believe this) 5 years with no payments so when us greenhorns lose the first several harvests as we’re educated in the School of Experience we don’t lose the farm… literally.  When I did a quick search I could find only one farm still for sale in this county… compared to the current trends that is incredible.
  • Cold Storage available in their warehouse
  • Active and extensive marketing support extending even to Whole Foods 200 miles away including a special local “brand” logo for food produced within 100 miles of Souix City, the larges close urban market.
  • Classes, seminars, and the critical support of knowing you are not an organic island in a Monsanto Sea
  • Vibrant Farmers Market and a supportive local food community

Add all this up and you can easily see why the County won a Sustainable Community Award this past October in a nationwide contest.   These are not  Crunchy Urbane Post Modern Hippies.  These are  rural folks in a county where the average farmer is 70, and they are fighting like hell to keep their county alive.   Makes you proud to be an American, which is reason enough to watch the video.

Be the Change!

-Rob

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