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Crop yields, Fundraising, and our visit to the Chatfield CSA

3 Nov

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After my week-long stint with discouragement, I am back on my feet again. Talking to my Mom the other day really helped, and today I got my first email from my Dad that oozed with plans and excitement. Watch out world- I wasn’t gone for long.

The last few days, I had been taking baby steps in preparation for getting back into real work today. This was mostly done inside my head, mulling this and that over, but I don’t think this thought process should be denied it’s importance. It is always the first step towards achievement.

So today, I woke my butt up and drew a hardly-to-scale map of the two acres of farm we are planning on turning into beautiful rows of veggies and separated it into 8 equal sections for our crop rotation. Two acres is approximately 87,120 square feet. Divided into 8, it gives us around 10,000 some square feet per section. After accounting for walkways and our 45 inch rows and taking some square roots here and there, I discovered that just one row of tomatoes could contain a huge amount of plants.

I guess I didn’t realize how big an acre really was.

After that, I got on my phone to deal with some financial matters. I called my sister, Andee, because she is the goddess of all things fundraising (and all things in general). She has four kids and still manages to organize a 5k for her son’s hockey program every year, be on the PTA, have a job as an executive assistant, and keep her house clean. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know when she brushes her teeth, but I’m sure she does. I wanted to see if we could hire her to organize a benefit to raise money for startup for this year, and as I expected, she’s brimming with ideas already and we are meeting next Friday to get started. We are considering a wine tasting/art auction with CSA memberships for those who donate over $300 and perhaps having a kickstarter or indie-gogo for our out-of-town friends and family. Friends, keep this in mind- what a great Christmas present… fresh, local veggies from a startup family farm for an entire season! (Oh no, I’ve already begun advertising and we don’t even have a date yet.)

After that, we weren’t done. I had called the Chatfield CSA outside Denver to see if we could come check out their operation, but no one answered. We decided to take a chance and head down there anyway, and were we glad we did! The Chatfield CSA has about an acre of veggies growing there, and their one acre feeds 55 families for the year. It absolutely amazes me. Why are we shipping in produce from anywhere again? Imagine the Colorado economy if we only bought produce from local farmers. I’m getting off topic, but we found out a lot of other important things too. Like drip irrigation; they use it everywhere, just as we suspected. They also have a great herb garden on the side for their CSA members since herbs grow so well in Colorado. What a great idea; send them some oregano to go in their veggie stews!

After a quick tour of the old homestead there, we decided to hit the road back home. We were tired, but we are re-energized and more ready than ever to start up next spring. We have emailed several other Colorado CSA’s back and forth as well, and for the most part, they have all been extremely welcoming and informative. We have plans to visit two of them, and one nice lady who lives deep in the mountains promised me a long phone call soon while her son is taking a nap.

One thing I have really learned from all this is to REACH OUT. Most people think I’m pretty outgoing, but inside I feel so shy and anxious all the time. But I wouldn’t have come nearly as far without the support from my family, friends, and strangers. And I would never have gotten the help I have gotten if I didn’t ask for it. There are so many resources in the world, and I haven’t even begun to touch them all. If I succeed, I will never be able to say I did it alone.

And I would never want to.

Soil Sampling

22 Oct

So, the first thing you want to do when farming a new piece of land is find out what you’re working with. We do this with everything; from buying a new car to having a first date at a hot wing joint. You want to see what’s under the hood (and in the case of dates, whether or not someone will still look you in the eye with orange sauce surrounding their entire mouths). In the case of farming, you want to do a soil sample.

Now, lucky for us laymen, you don’t have to be much of a scientist these days to do this. Any Extension program will give you instructions on gathering soil, take your samples, and tell you what to do with the information they pump out of their scientist-brain-machines. We use CSU Extension here in Colorado, and they are a well of other information, too. I would recommend any beginner farmer to check out what Extensions have to offer.

Anyways, today we went to do our soil sampling thang. I know, in my heart of hearts, that CSU must fundamentally believe that their instructions for collecting samples make sense, but really, I read it seventeen different times and could’ve translated it into about that same amount of ways to go about collecting. But on time 18 of reading it, I decided I was a logical enough human being to infer what they wanted and follow the few basic rules and get it done. These rules are as follows:

1. Don’t use a rusty spoon… I mean, shovel. Or augur. Or anything that gets dirt from out of the ground. It will add iron to your test results and you don’t want that.
2. Take 20-30 samples from the field/fields you are going to be farming. If there are creek beds, strange areas where nothing seems to grow, or changes in landscape and you want to get a sample from them for whatever odd reason, keep them separate.
3. Dig at least 8-12” deep. You want to get all parts of the soil and you want to see the nitrogen you’ve got way down there in case you ever need to tap into it.
4. Mix the 20-30 samples together to form a composite of your field.
5. Do not put a lid on whatever you’re storing the soil in. They recommend a plastic Homer bucket (the orange ones you find at home depot). A lid can change the environment around the soil and then change the soil.
6. Allow the soil to dry before you put it in a little plastic baggie (you can use a Ziploc, but often your Extension Program can provide you with something less homey. Our EP is in Fort Collins and we said, “Nay, we aint drivin’ all that way for a damn plastic baggie.”)

So I followed all those rules, using the mile markers and telephone poles as the digging guide so we were sure to be as thorough as possible. After painfully digging with our sorry excuse for a shovel 25 times in a field that was hard as rock and full of goatheads (read: super pokey things that make you bleed and send razor sharp splinters into your hands that break into tiny pieces and make you wish you were a kid again so you could cry at that sort of stuff), and after we did our fair share of exploring and feeding other people’s horses and goats while they were at church, we started to head home.

But curiosity got the best of us. We had a bucket of soil in the back seat of the car that could tell us how easy our lives would be in a few months. That, and we live in Colorado where it’s cool for people to grow marijuana, so there are little shops everywhere that sell stuff for growing, and we wanted to do our own soil sample test, too! This is America and we wanted to know NOW! So we stopped at a classy place called Way To Grow and picked up a home soil testing kit for $16.50.

These things are rad. They test for pH, nitrogen, phosphorous, and something else I forgot (I haven’t done that test yet). They have little chemical pills in different colors that you add to soil and water and they tell you the future! But in all seriousness, you add a little soil, add a little water, add a chemical pill, and wait for it to change colors. It comes with several little pills for each test so you can do it over and over in the course of a year (or month if you’re a masochist). I will be buying these a lot.

I also really wanted to check the amount of clay, sand, and silt in the soil. You don’t need a fancy kit to do this: just a clear jar with a lid, water, and your soil sample. Fill the jar with one part soil to three parts water, give it a good shake, then let the formula settle out for a few minutes. Once it’s all settled, you’ll see that it has separated. The clay will be at the top, silt will be in the middle, and sand will settle to the bottom. There you have it.

Needless to say, we will still be absolutely using CSU for a more thorough test. You get averages with these home tests and if you don’t have filtered water at home, it can effect your results a bit. CSU will also provide us with recommendations and plans based on our results that will be very beneficial. But we got a general idea of what problems we will and will not be having; our nitrogen is depleted so we will have to compost this year, our pH is a magnificent neutral (if not a tiny bit acidic), and we’ve got a really good combination of clay, sand, and silt on the land. This tells us what we can grow, how we should prepare the soil, what we should do to help next year’s crops, etc. It is indispensable information.

If you’re getting ready to start up farming next year and need to gather a soil sample, here is my advice: put on good pair of boots, make sure you’ve got a whole day to get it done, bring gloves, make sure that your tools for digging aren’t rusted or pieces of crap (trust me), and if you get a little antsy to know what you’re looking at, grab a home soil testing kit and check it out yourself. Don’t skip out on your Extension program’s testing, however. You’ll need that scientific data- and home kits don’t check for metals, and in places like Colorado, you need to know about it.

That’s all for today! My fingers are full of splinters and I have to go back to my day job tomorrow morning. Until then.

Unicorns and Fairy Dust and Loan Applications

16 Oct

Today, we visited the most magical universe in the whole galaxy. Okay, so maybe not for everyone, but I swear the flourescent-lit, retro-carpeted FSA building full of women with big hairstyles and men in overalls is a farmer‘s/information whore’s wet dream. There are booklets, and packets, and worksheets, and CLASSES, AND LOANS, AND GRANTS, AND SOIL SAMPLING KITS AND AND AND!!!!

We walked in and I was immediately terribly shy. But my mother has 40 years of being a strong, independent woman on me, so I forgive myself for letting her do most of the talking at first. We were there to ask about loans for small growers, and after Janice (the woman who helped us) sized me up and got a good look at my tattoos, she seemed surprisingly okay with what she saw and kindly escorted us back to a meeting area.

Side note: I don’t care when Janice in the FSA office in Brighton, CO looks at me like I may or may not be a dangerous weirdo at first glance of my urban look. Janice probably never has had a young twenty-something with tattoos and short bangs walk into her office asking about green much. What really gets me are people in downtown Denver who stare at me for 5 minutes and look like they’ve already seen my future where I am nothing but an old, saggy, wrinkly lady that does nothing but sit in a rocking chair regretting the pretty pictures I put on my skin. Anyways.

She went over all types of loans, we asked her a bunch of questions, and my parents, Victoria, and I left with a huge loan application and a little more excited (if that’s even possible!). Janice appeared to love us and our ideas. She seemed to genuinely love helping people and I really think she liked to see young women looking to be organic growers. I felt oddly surprised at her reaction. Having been into music recently, I expected it to be like walking into a Folklore shop knowing nothing about acoustic guitars: you are demeaned if not ignored and it is generally an unpleasant experience. Maybe farming is the heart of America. Based on my family members that are farmers and the people I’ve met so far in agriculture, it seems like there are many, many good hearts.

We had a good talk with my parents on the way back home. We talked about living arrangements, Victoria and I settling our debts and taking tons of classes before turning in our application, and got some ice cream. My parents are really wonderful people. It’s amazing how you don’t know this until you’re old and have really screwed up and treated them like trolls for years, but I guess that is the human condition. I just feel blessed to know this and have them now. I plan on being the best daughter forever and as possible. It’s the very least they deserve.

So, after all this mushy-talk, there is much business to do. I mean, this loan application is BIZNIZ. We need to calculate crop yeilds before we have even farmed a piece of land, meet with several other CSA/Farmer’s Market growers, gain some sort of experience and education, take 20 some odd soil samples to CSU Extension, and come up with a complete financial evaluation of our first year. All that and we still may not get the loan. But that just takes me right to what my mom said to us as we were sitting watching the Bronco’s game tonight,

“If you really have a dream, and it burns you to not have it yet, you have to keep going. There are no setbacks if it is something you really want. This is coming from someone who was once a single mother. There are no setbacks. You just keep going. You find a way.”