Reflections on our First Season

It's hard to believe our first season has all but come to an end, but here we are with two months of 2018 to go, all of our storage crops harvested and in the cooler, and only a couple of beds of hardy greens left in the field. I'm not going to try to document every little thing that happened between the last post from May and right now, but I'll try to sketch an outline.

We started going to markets right after the last post, Marquette on Saturdays, Munising on Tuesdays. Toward the middle of June the Negaunee Market Manager reached out to ask if we would like to try out that market on Wednesdays, and being totally gung-ho about our first year we decided to do that one as well. So, Kate took on the Munising market, I did Negaunee, and we switched off going to Marquette. We both love going to market and sharing what we do with people, and we're grateful for the relationships we're starting to develop with customers who are as passionate about local food systems as we are. Negaunee ended in September, Munising in October, and the last outdoor Marquette market was just last week, but this Saturday we're moving inside for seven weeks of indoor Marquette markets. 

Mid-September at the Marquette Farmer’s Market

Mid-September at the Marquette Farmer’s Market

Our intensive planning for this season really paid off. It's hard to believe, but pretty much everything went according to plan. We had a couple issues here and there, and there was a learning curve to timing and densities of our plantings, but nothing major. Turns out we're pretty good at growing food. The Chatham Co-op, which we can see from our farm, regularly carried our scallions as long as we had them, Superior Culture flavors some of their kombucha with our beets, and both The Marq and The Delft in Marquette feature some of our veggies on their menus. Wholesaling is a part of our business we would like to grow, for sure. 

If you squint, you might be able to see the Chatham Co-op in the distance.

If you squint, you might be able to see the Chatham Co-op in the distance.

Seeing how the North Farm operates as a wholesale-only operation has been eye opening - we guess each week about how much to harvest to take to market, we wash it and put it in the cooler, and then after market we bring a fair amount back. Some of it we can take to the next market, but certain things we'll only take when they're fresh from a day or two before. With the North Farm, everything has been ordered in advance, so they know exactly how much to harvest, they fill up the cooler one day, and the next it's completely empty, and nothing comes back. No wasted labor, and less wasted food. It seems obvious, but we've never seen a wholesale-only farm. We don't want to stop going to markets or having a farm stand, but finding more wholesale channels is definitely a goal for next year.

Peaceful early morning harvest.

Peaceful early morning harvest.

As far as food waste goes, we didn't have a lot. Sure, we had a fair amount of food come back from market that we couldn't sell, but we ate as much of it as we could, preserved even more for the winter, and the rest either went into a compost pile to eventually go right back into the soil, or it went to our neighbors who raise livestock. Their pigs ate a whole lot of kale this year. There's a lot of concern about food waste on farms, and there should be, something like half of all food grown in the US is left in the field, not because it's inedible, but largely because it's cosmetically damaged. That's an issue, for sure. But what's missed in that statistic is that, at least on the small farms we've worked on and now on our own farm, most if not all of that excess or unmarketable food is fed to animals, turned into compost, or turned directly back into the soil. Turning excess food into compost and then applying it to the soil is ideal, as the nutrients in composted plant matter are more readily available to plants growing in it, and compost improves soil tilth, but even turning plant material directly into the bed that it grew into adds nutrients, organic matter, and returns to the soil some of what was taken. None of this is waste - it’s all a part of a cycle. Food in a landfill is waste, food that’s burned is waste, food that goes right back into the ground it came from is a vital part of a living soil system. 

A few critters who enjoyed our leftover salad.

A few critters who enjoyed our leftover salad.

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We learned so much this season. We learned how to better deal with stress, and to not beat ourselves up over mistakes we made. After four years of farming I finally started to learn how to use seeders (Kate’s the real direct seeding pro, though). We came into this season both wanting to do everything, but knowing that we would have to divide responsibilities up between us, and we figured out what made the most sense for each of us to take on. We built a lot of confidence this year, for sure, and that might be the most important thing. It sounds silly, but at the beginning of the season, whenever we seeded or transplanted something I was always a little surprised when it grew and we were able to harvest it and people actually bought it. Knowing that we can do this, that we know what we’re doing, and that we know how to make changes to do it better in the future is a great feeling. 

Summer beauties!

Summer beauties!

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So we're really happy with our season, and we're already starting to plan for next year (we're nothing if not planners). As for the rest of 2018, we still have the Marquette market every Saturday through December 15th. We have lots of carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, watermelon radishes, and kohlrabi in storage, and until we get some snow accumulation or super deep freezes we'll have arugula, parsley, cilantro, salad turnips, and a small amount of salad mix coming out of the field. We have some spinach and other salad greens growing in a tunnel, and we're crossing our fingers that it will grow quickly enough to harvest for the last few markets. 


We're also offering a holiday box special. Any market between the one prior to Thanksgiving (the 11/17 market) and the last market (12/15) we'll pack a box with whatever amount of carrots, beets, potatoes, and onions you'd like, as long as it adds up to at least $15, and have it ready for you to pick up. We're offering wholesale prices on those items. We just ask that you email us with your order a week before you want to pick it up, or fill out one of our order forms and get it to us a week in advance. This can be for a big holiday meal, or, if you've got the space, it could just be to stock up on some storage items for once the market ends. We're also happy to come into Marquette and meet you at the Marquette Commons (where the market is), on Friday, December 21st with a box in time for Christmas (time TBD). Find out what’s available here or come see us at the Marquette Market for a paper copy of the order form.

We are so lucky to have access to this root barrel washer, which gets our roots super clean and saves us a lot of time.

We are so lucky to have access to this root barrel washer, which gets our roots super clean and saves us a lot of time.

Very clean watermelon radishes.

Very clean watermelon radishes.

Although we aim to support ourselves with our farm business year round, it will be a few years before we can do that. So we were just approaching this winter with the attitude that something would work out and we'd be able to find jobs to sustain us until next season, and that's exactly what happened! I'll be working at The Marq, and Kate will be at Superior Culture. It's incredibly gratifying to be working for local businesses intent on showcasing local foods and flavors, and to see our own food going into delicious creations for people to enjoy. 

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to write about Chris Blanchard. We didn't personally know him, but he influenced our farm in countless ways, and his recent but way too early passing is a real blow. He created the Farmer to Farmer podcast, through which he interviewed nearly 200 farmers around the country. Each episode dug into the nuts and bolts of a given farm operation, from how much land they grew on, to how they marketed their produce, to what methods they used for weed control, or tillage (or non-tillage), or any number of other things. It's an amazing resource, there's nothing else like it. So many little things from that podcast have influenced our farm and the way we do certain things. On top of that, listening to other farmer's stories on a weekly basis helped Kate and I to believe we could do this. If you're not a farmer, but you'd like to understand on a granular level what farmers do, check out his podcast (farmertofarmer.com). 

Two tired farmers who are so grateful for your support this year! We can’t wait to do it all over again.

Two tired farmers who are so grateful for your support this year! We can’t wait to do it all over again.