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
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):
In this series:
Part I – Experiencing pesticide drift
Part II – Calling in the government
Part III – Aftermath, conclusions, & ramifications.
After a week of waiting to hear from the farmer responsible for the spraying operation (calls/messages went unanswered), we gave up and pursued other avenues. Our local extension office referred us to the Bureau of Pesticide Control (hereafter referred to as “the Bureau”), part of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The nice lady on the phone advised us on how to file a formal complaint, which was needed to initiate an investigation into any suspected pesticide drift incident. The actual process was easy, but we had a question: Continue reading
December turned warmer than average, though it was so cloudy you’d be forgiven for thinking it was cold. This grey stability really shows up in the NWS monthly graph, which looks rather bizarre for here. We also had very little snow, but as the Kansas City NWS office pointed out, this says nothing about the rest of the winter:
Does the amount of snow we get through Dec mean anything about the rest of the winter? Nope! pic.twitter.com/FDsXI5cMq8
— NWS Kansas City (@NWSKansasCity) December 29, 2014
On July 14, 2014, our vegetable farm experienced pesticide drift from a crop-duster. It has taken nearly five months for the resulting investigation to run its course, and only now can we tell the full story with all the information. In this three-part series we’ll discuss (I) the actual experience and immediate aftermath, (II) the arc of getting the government involved, and (III) the practical and philosophical considerations drawn from this experience. Throughout this topic we’ll use the phrase “pesticide” as defined by the EPA:
“Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests…Under United States law, a pesticide is also any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant”.
The following narrative is drawn from written statements requested by the Missouri Bureau of Pesticide Control as part of their official investigation into the incident. We each wrote a separate narrative of our memories and experiences, which I have woven together here using the original text with only minimal editing to remove redundancy and confusion, and a few notes added for clarification where needed. These are our words from the time presenting what we experienced, as we recorded it several weeks later.
Interested in forestry practices? Concerned about climate issues and how appropriate land management can help? You may well enjoy attending the 6th Annual Agroforestry Symposium next Thursday on the MU campus; it is free & open to the public. We’re particularly excited to hear Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm speak, as his book Restoration Agriculture has been very influential in our discussions about transitioning this farm to a more perennial-based system. Eric has also been asked to participate in a “landowner panel discussion”, which will include a 10-minute presentation on our diversified forest management. We’ve long found the MU Center for Agroforestry a useful and valuable resource for diversified sustainable farmers like ourselves (among other things they got us started on shiitake mushroom production), so we hope many others can attend this symposium and support their creative and interesting work.
November was cool & dry, with temperatures around 6 degrees below average and precipitation low as well. We did spend a fair amount of time outdoors, including a successful deer hunting season, meaning lots of interesting photos and experiences.
Our landscape is overpopulated with deer, and we are soliciting help with reducing the herd further. Eric has already shot his limit of two for the season, but there are at least 5-6 more using our valley as documented by remote trail cameras and personal observation. Rifle season ends on December 7 while bow season extends until January 15, meaning far more opportunity for a bow-hunter to help cull the herd. We have never had time or resources to take up bow-hunting ourselves, though it is a long-term desire. If you are, or know of, a responsible bow-hunter who would like to use our 40 acres of mixed pasture and woodland to take more deer, please contact us. We have one good tree stand in a location near multiple trails that has already bagged two deer, and multiple other possible locations including 5 active scrapes being used by at least 3 different bucks. The trail-camera photos above were taken at two of these locations on 11/15/14.
The final share of the 2014 CSA season will be delivered on Monday, November 24 to ALL MEMBERS; we do not deliver on Thanksgiving Day. Personally, we’re pleased with the quality and quantity of produce that went into the shares this year, and the survey results suggest that those of you who responded agree. If anything, we overstocked the bags somewhat, but that was a function of membership being well below target in another productive year for the farm. If you’d like to review this year’s shares, and compare them to last year, please check out the share photos page.
There will be no Chert Hollow Farm CSA program in 2015. We are pulling back from the farm as a full-time business for reasons laid out here. We apologize to those who were looking forward to signing up again, but this is something we need to do for ourselves. There will be certain crops available for sale next year, including garlic and strawberries, and we will maintain an email list of consumers who wish to be contacted about products and events on the farm next year. Your final share survey will include an option to be placed on our email list for 2015; we will not contact anyone who has not expressed interest. Non-members reading this who wish to be on the list should email us to say so. Finally, if you would like to keep one of our cloth delivery bags as a useful keepsake, feel free to do so. We have a large quantity still in storage awaiting a membership expansion that didn’t come. Please return all bags labeled as “loaners” and keep one labeled with your name.
If you are looking for another CSA, take a look at Happy Hollow Farm, a certified organic CSA that delivers to Columbia. Liz of Happy Hollow grows quality vegetables on a gorgeous farm tucked away among the hills across the Missouri River from Columbia. She also sells at the Columbia Farmers Market, and you can find out if she’ll be at the winter markets by following her Happy Hollow Facebook page. She offers a different set of services and produce than we did, but is the closest you’ll get. Share Life Farms also grows certified organic produce, but the CSA information on their website hasn’t been updated since 2013. These are the only single-farm, organically minded CSAs that we’re aware of in the area.
Here are a few photos from the last big harvest push before the arctic blast hit:
Left: First of two truck loads of produce hauled back from the field. Right: Work-share members Eric & Tyler trim leaves off of the kohlrabi plants in preparation for storage & distribution.
Left: Jordan, Joanna, & Fae harvest parsnips, shown right. Photos by David Barker.
We’d like to extend a big thank you to all of our work-share members: Eric, Tyler, Jordan, Fae, David, Kendall, and Miranda. These are the folks who came out to the farm virtually every week this year, and some have been doing so for many years; we’ve relied on them to make the farm run smoothly. In addition, we greatly appreciate the regular members and other farm friends who have been out to take part in farm events, to pick strawberries, and to help with other farm tasks. And finally, we’d like to thank several farm-stay visitors from earlier in the season. In March, we enjoyed hosting two students from Carleton College, Joanna’s alma mater; read more here. And we had two excellent WWOOFers in 2014; thank you Vanessa and Kelly! We’ve certainly learned that it does take a community to run a farm. Though next year the work opportunities will be less structured, we’d like the feeling of community to continue; please get in touch &/or stay in touch if you’d like to be a part of the farm.
And, finally, the produce list for the final share of 2014:
There will be no Chert Hollow Farm CSA in 2015; we are taking a much-needed break to pursue other projects and sources of income while assessing and discussing our future here. Our attention has been focused on the need for a change by the various stresses of the past year, including a significantly under-strength CSA membership, possible drift from a crop duster, the loss of our best dairy goat to deer-borne parasites, and more. In fact, after eight years of farming, we’ve already overshot the Biblical origins of sabbatical as a commandment to rest the fields every seventh year. Even God took a break before we did.
We feel a sense of burnout, after working hard to build a business that has never quite achieved our financial and entrepreneurial goals. The farm business has always been profitable on an annual basis (not counting long-term infrastructure investments), but never close to the level of income we left on the table to pursue this in lieu of more traditional careers in science and education. We’ve tried multiple approaches to adapting the farm business to our goals and principles, but have never quite succeeded in connecting with enough consumers to sell all the abundant, quality produce we’ve grown year after year. Farming itself has not been the core challenge; earning a decent independent living at it has. Health insurance plays a role, too, as the recent reforms have done little to assuage our concern over costs and the long-term economic viability of health care and personal finances in the event one of us is injured or sickened in any way.
In truth, we know of no young, sustainable farmers in this region who are making a comfortable living selling local food without some kind of supplemental off-farm source of income or funds in the background, and few have lasted as long as we have. Three years ago, in a post discussing our egg prices, we stated that “…if not enough people will pay minimum wage for good eggs, it’s chicken soup time and we’ll go back down to a home-sized flock. There are lots of easier and less risky ways to make minimum wage; neither of us will do this work, and take these risks, for less.” This is essentially the approach we’re now taking with the entire farm, at least for the coming year. We value our skills, knowledge, and labor at a higher level than we’re able to earn for them in the current food system here, and so we choose to focus our energies elsewhere.
We are not quitting farming, however, simply accepting that farming alone cannot provide the living we desire at this time, as self-employed folks in our 30s who are looking ahead to a career path that supports a decent retirement while we’re still healthy. We will be actively seeking to develop other sources of work and income that may offer a more balanced life. As an example, we both enjoy writing, and used to do more on our website and elsewhere. As the farm took over our lives, and particularly since the CSA started, that aspect of ourselves drifted away, and we’d like to recapture it. Expect this site to publish more policy and nature writing in the coming year, as a backdrop to some professional writing projects we’ll be undertaking. In addition, we’ll be offering two classes this spring through the Columbia Area Career Center, and will pursue additional opportunities for paid teaching, speaking, and more.
Meanwhile, we’ll be undertaking several longer-term farm projects we’ve discussed for years. Putting more time into developing permaculture areas such as perennial food plantings is an investment in farming for the long run, as is larger-scale landscape restoration/improvement of pastures and forests. Most of these goals cannot be achieved while simultaneously running full-time on the treadmill of annual vegetable production.
We’ll be cover-cropping and resting a large portion of the farm, but will be raising a few targeted cash crops that are especially reliable and practical in our experience. Strawberries will be producing again next spring, and we’ve planted more garlic for next year than ever before. We have not decided the best way to market these items yet, but will maintain a list of customers who wish to be contacted if and when various crops are available for sale; this will also be announced on the website & Twitter feed. As we intend to return this website to its previous incarnation as a wide-ranging outlet for our thoughts and analysis on everything from agriculture to ecology, it’ll be easy to keep up with us if desired.
Agriculture writer Gene Logsdon wrote recently that farming requires “someone with more brains than banking requires, as much stamina as professional sports demands, almost as many people skills as it takes to run a university and the dedication of a sainted doctor.” We have learned that, apparently, we are not all of those things, or at least not to the extent that results in commercial success in this area. So we will explore other ways of putting our diverse skill set to use in service of our personal goals, while retaining our deep love of sustainable land management and production of excellent food.
We thank all of you who gave our farm a chance, and hope we’ll be able to continue providing value to your lives in other ways. We don’t entirely know what decisions we might make during the coming year; it’s going to be an exciting and nerve-wracking time as we navigate this new set of goals and lifestyle changes. We thrive on new and interesting challenges, and this is one we’re both currently inspired by. We are fortunate to be able to attempt this change, and will do our best to make it worthwhile.