What a pleasant month April was this year, with May following its example. Reasonably stable weather and seasonal temperatures made it a joy to be outside. We keep asking why we couldn’t have had a spring like this when farming full-time?
The limited responses to last month’s Natural Events post makes it clear that we can’t justify putting too much time into these going forward (sorry, faraway friends!). However, we also can’t bring ourselves to break continuity with this multi-year journal of observations. So for now we’re going to try to carry on more efficiently. One change we’re making is to omit the bird listing from the monthly post. Not to worry, we’re still keeping bird records, and we look forward to finding another way to present bird data on the website in future.
On Sunday morning, May 3, we’ll be hosting a birding field trip on the farm through the Columbia Audubon Society (CAS). All are welcome on CAS field trips, even if you are not a member of CAS (or a CSA); all that’s required is an interest in nature and birds and a willingness to join us in exploring the diverse habitats of our landscape. The CAS carpool will meet at the Patricia’s parking lot, 900 N Keene St, leaving at 7:30 so we can start birding the farm by 8:00 a.m. If you’d like to come birding, please contact us to reserve your spot.
We’ll spend as much of the morning as necessary to cover the woods, stream, fields, hollows, and other habitats in search of interesting birds. If time and interest allow, we may also visit nearby natural areas including Pinnacles Youth Park and/or Rocky Fork Conservation Area. No experience is necessary, just an interest in birds and a desire to enjoy the spring landscape. We have a couple of spare pairs of binoculars available if needed.
This is a great time of year for birding, as the leaves aren’t fully out, allowing easier observation in treetops. Migratory warblers and other birds are beginning to pass through; new arrivals in the past few weeks include Kentucky Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager (abundant this year!), Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Eastern Towhee, and many more. Understand that this is a birding trip, not a farm tour per se, so the focus will be on wildlife and nature rather than agricultural interpretation.
If you’re interested in other such trips, the CAS website hosts the official listing for all upcoming trips, as do the monthly newsletters which Eric edits. In two weeks. we’ll be leading a similar trip to Goatsbeard Farm and Sullivan Farms, northwest of Columbia, and there are many more opportunities to get out and enjoy birding with other like-minded folks.
Note: The Columbia Earth Day event has been postponed to April 26.
For the second year, we’ll be hosting a booth at Columbia’s Earth Day festival. Last year, we won the organization’s Best For-Profit Booth award. We are looking forward to another enjoyable experience, this time with a location on Eco Avenue, the heart of Earth Day, located on Elm St between 7th & 8th St.
This year we intend to have a variety of interesting reasons to stop by, including:
- Kid-friendly, hands-on interpretive displays of natural items from the farm.
- Wood products for sale, including garden-bed frame kits and birdhouses built to Audubon standards, all made from cedar wood cut and milled on-farm (more about birdhouses here).
- Signups for notification of produce available later in the season, including strawberries and garlic.
- Small packets of Mercuri tomato seeds, a rare heirloom tomato that come from a friend’s Canadian-Italian family. These are winter-storage tomatoes; they will not beat most summer tomatoes in fresh flavor, but will store for months in your pantry, giving you fresh tomatoes long after the growing season is over (and saving significant canning work). They are prolific, hardy, and disease-resistant. We offer these through the Seed Savers Exchange network, but will make them available at Earth Day as a way to encourage home gardening and local food consumption.
- We may have small amounts of herbs or other produce for sale. This will be a last-minute decision.
Here are photos of some prototype wood products we’ll be offering. Top photo, from left to right, wren house, bluebird house, phoebe shelf. Bottom photo, 3’x4′ garden bed frame. Finished product will be screwed together at the joints, ready to be filled with soil/compost and planted. Also available, 4’x4′ squares. Cedar lumber resists rot very well and will last many years as a bed frame. These are also good for framing young trees.
We both plan to attend this year, so stop by, check out the displays, chat about eco-friendly diversified farming, consider adding a birdhouse or garden bed to your home, and help make this another great Earth Day!
We were away for part of March, so the bird list has a few gaps in it, and there aren’t many photos to share. This provides us with an opportunity to ask readers for some feedback on our monthly natural events posts.
We started this series many years ago with several goals: to help us track observations and changes in our surroundings, to demonstrate that farming can happen in concert with environmental awareness, and to engage customers in the natural context of their food’s source. We hoped we would gain and retain customers who wanted to support farmers who paid attention to the natural world, and weren’t “just” farmers. Putting these posts together, though generally enjoyable, does take a fair amount of time and focus. It’s not clear to us how many customers or readers really value the result. We can keep track of birds, photos, and observations off-line, too, so if there isn’t a concrete value to the extra work of packaging these data onto the web, we’re questioning how or whether to keep doing it. So we’re interested in hearing any feedback on the content, format, or value of these posts to anyone who’s reading. Comments or emails are fine. In the meantime, read on for March 2015. Continue reading
The April issue of Growing for Market, a national “trade publication for local food producers”, carries an article we wrote about farmers handling pesticide drift incidents. It briefly tells two stories of recent drift contamination in central Missouri (our own experience and that of Terra Bella Farm), and presents ways farmers can prepare for handling or preventing such an event. If you’re not a Growing for Market subscriber but want to read the article, individual issues can be ordered in print or digital format.
For readers of GFM who have found our site after reading the article, you can read more about our specific experience in this three-part blog series: Part I, Part II, & Part III. We hope the article is helpful to others in preparing for this increasing threat, and welcome any feedback, comments, or stories you may want to share.
In April we’ll be offering a chance to learn more about central Missouri birding, with a one-day class through the Columbia Area Career Center. This is a great chance to explore Eagle Bluffs, one of the region’s top bird conservation areas, and gain some practical skills in bird identification and appreciation. Here’s the catalog description (p. 45) followed by some more detail about our goals for the class; we hope to have an enthusiastic group and cooperative weather! If interested, register through the Career Center.
Basic Birding Skills
Saturday, 4/11/15, 8:00 – noon
Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area is a birding gem in Columbia’s backyard. We’ll explore its various habitats, practice observational and listening skills, and consider bird behavior. No experience necessary, only a desire to discover what makes birding so popular!
Course description: In a hands-on natural setting, students will explore how to observe and listen to a wide variety of birds, understand and analyze their habitats and behaviors, and otherwise gain basic skills that can be applied to birding in any location. Course is intended to teaching birding skills in the field rather than bird identification per se, though we expect attendees will come away more familiar with specific birds than when they arrived. For example, we will practice observing and recording specific features of birds that can be used for later identification, rather than trying to identify birds on the fly. Overall, we want students to see some neat birds, enjoy a morning of nature observation, and come away with new confidence and birding skills.
Presenter biography: We are members of the Columbia Audubon Society, and experienced observers of birds across central Missouri and on our own diverse farm. Joanna is a lifelong birder from a birding family, while Eric holds a Masters in Teaching and has extensive experience in public science education.
Cold and annoying, we won’t miss February, although we have little to complain about compared to certain other parts of the US. Daily walks turned up a few interesting phenomena, including the bird wing print and mantis egg case shown below.
In April we’ll be teaching a kitchen-management course through the Columbia Area Career Center. We’ve long practiced and espoused a form of whole-kitchen management that integrates creative cooking with using seasonal items that are available and on hand, without being overly time-consuming or fussy. A good example is the “Preparing a CSA share in an hour” demonstration we gave last year, which showed how easy it can be to turn an full-share of farm-fresh produce into simple, delicious, and wholesome dishes.
Here’s the catalog description (p. 44) followed by a more detailed outline of our curriculum and goals, drawn from our initial proposal to CACC. Please considering sharing this with anyone you know who might be interested, or even signing up yourself!
Tuesdays 4/14 – 5/12, 7:00 – 8:30 pm
Getting the most out of your ingredients and your budget requires flexibility in menu-planning along with creativity and improvisation in the kitchen. Explore ways to source and prepare meals that are simple, delicious and economical. (5 Sessions)
Skills to be gained: Students will learn how to: find and choose fresh ingredients; assess and adapt recipes to match their supplies & needs; use seasonal menus and food preservation to improve their food budget; and explore kitchen techniques and items that can benefit their cooking & time budget.
Presenter biography: We have been honing our cooking skills for over 15 years, first as farmers market shoppers and CSA members, then as professional producers of fresh ingredients at Chert Hollow Farm in northern Boone County. Eric also holds a Masters degree in teaching and has extensive experience with public speaking and education.
Outline of learning activities per session:
- Sourcing ingredients: Discussions of seasonality, growing methods, sources of ingredients, what to ask farmers or grocers, ways to identify better or worse ingredients, storage and preservation methods.
- Recipe analysis: What makes a good or bad recipe, how to rewrite or adapt a recipe to be easier or faster to follow, how different ingredients contribute to a recipe, how to swap or supplement ingredients.
- Master recipes: Step away from specific recipes and discuss the structure of different classes of meals. What defines a soup, a pasta, a stir fry, a sauce? How can we develop a master recipe that can be adapted to whatever ingredients are on hand?
- Kitchen management: Ways to use your kitchen more efficiently, including advance preparation, recipe doubling, appropriate shortcuts, spreading preparation over multiple days vs. a scheduled cooking binge.
- Budgeting & valuing food: Economics of how food is produced, sold, and purchased, minimizing waste, efficient approaches to sourcing ingredients, analysis of personal and general food budgets, buying in bulk vs. not over-purchasing.
January went past quietly, drier than usual and so stable that we really didn’t notice the weather all that much. Trumpeter Swans continued to pass overhead regularly, an unusual and enjoyable pattern this winter. Continue reading
, Experiencing pesticide drift
Pesticide drift is a threat to sustainable farms like ours, and to the environment as a whole. While pesticide labels clearly spell out legal restrictions and boundaries for proper use, these rules are only as effective as the enforcement activity which punishes misuse. Where illegal and dangerous activity is unpunished, it tends to continue (think speed limits). Our experience clearly demonstrates that the Missouri Department of Agriculture does not take threats to small farms or the environment seriously enough to deter illegal and irresponsible pesticide applications. Consider just some of the warnings and restrictions on the official Priaxor label, which were clearly violated by the confirmed presence of drift contamination on our farm (no emphasis added):