Picture
Thursday was my last day working at George Jones Memorial Farm. I'm sad to miss the rest of the growing season and the birth of the farm cat's kittens but this Saturday's event is something I will miss seeing unfold as well...Weed Dating! Fox News even came out to the farm to do a segment promoting the event. Was hoping the video would be available online but it has not yet been posted. Should be worth a few laughs with me and some fellow co-workers in the background pretending to be "weed dating." For the daring folks who attend the actual event, I think they will be pleasantly surprised. I've had some very enlightening and stimulating conversations while weeding. More importantly, it is puts a fun spin on farming and gets more people in the community out in the fields and connected to their food. Whoever coined the term, "agritourism," I'm sure they never envisioned weed dating would be added to the list. But to engage eaters, we need more ideas like this. Instead of Tupperware parties there could be planting parties or harvesting contests to see who can quart the most berries.

As for the rest of my time in Ohio...I've got a packed schedule. I'll be attending the MotherEarth News Fair, taking a soil class at The Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, attending a Food Summit in Detroit focused on fighting hunger and meeting with area farmers and others involved in the local food movement in NE Ohio. Should be a pretty vibrant next month so stay tuned!

 
Picture
This weekend, fellow co-workers, Jared and Ben, took my open air classroom on the road to two, other organic farms. Both are located just a few miles from Abbondonza. Seeing the style, focus and size of other farms gave my whole project perspective. First stop...Oxford Farms. They have a small CSA program, attend a couple farmer's markets per week but primarily focus on supplying food to local restaurants. We were greeted by the owner, John Brown, who is an authority on soil science. For an hour, we stood amongst rows of popping veggies talking about soil ecology and his biological farming practice. I could take a semester long course on the subject and not learn as much as I did in that one hour. Here are a few nuggets for you to chew on...1) Want to get the sugars up in your vegetables to make them sweeter? Pay attention to the calcium and magnesium balance in the soil. 2) Want soil that holds more nutrients and retains water better? Add more clay. 3) Your veggies are only as good as your soil. Not just for how they grow but for how they taste and how nutritious they are. You can farm organically but if you don't remineralize your soil you'll have less wholesome, blander tasting vegetables. 4) Take the last three fun facts and consider what is in your daily vitamins. Most of what we take vitamins for are what nutrient dense farmers amend their soil with. Perhaps if we paid more attention to our soil which fed our vegetables, we wouldn't have to take vitamins. Hhmmm! I was in love with their processing center where vegetables come to get ready for market. Take the virtual tour of their streamlined process. Click here!

Second visit...Ollin Farms. They have a robust CSA program with over 140 shareholders, attend two farmer's markets each week but have also diversified by offering a variety of agritourism options including pick-your-own strawberries, road-side farm stand, summer veggie camp for kids and an outdoor banquet facility. But my favorite product offering is their family dinner. The typical cost of a barn dinner is over $100/person pricing most people out of consideration. Ollin's "family" dinners are just that, for the family and only cost $30/person. Pictured above in the red shirt is the farm manager, Chad, with two of his happy shareholders who do a work trade.My co-workers, Jared and Ben, are the ones wearing the fashionable fedora hat and the maroon shirt, respectfully. We caught Chad and team on break giving us a chance to learn more about what makes their farm one of the more profitable farms in the area...access to city water which enables them to plant earlier, be the first to market each season and as a result turn crops over faster. The winning feature of the day was their lettuce spinner. You've probably never considered doing this with your washing machine....Check it out, click here!

Picture
If you let your plants go, they will bolt or flower. Here is what spinach looks like when it has bolted. Let it bloom and dry up and you'll get seeds.

Picture
Want a salad of mixed greens? Just plant a variety of greens really tight together in one bed. When ready, just go through with some scissors. Leave enough at the base so the lettuce can regrow and enjoy garden, fresh greens all summer.

 
Picture
It's only the first week and my mind is already churning with ideas for where this road may lead. Farmers are so busy with the day to day that they can't dedicate the time they would like to marketing and business development. It's a priority for sure but when the veggies need to be harvested and taken to market that takes precedent. Whether it be working part-time for a few farmers or being hired as a consultant, farmers could use advice on how to leverage what they do best or how to promote themselves better. For instance, I was at the local farmer's market this past Wednesday evening. Which, by the way, is a community celebration here in Boulder where people come for the social aspect as much as for the fresh produce. The place was packed with food vendors, children playing and street performers. Anyway, I saw arugula at this one stand and thought about this yummy white pizza I make with arugula salad on top. But as I sized up the stand, I got the impression it was not organic so I went to the next stall which had lettuce displayed in baskets, a fun name and catchy logo (FYI...just because a farmer is at a farmer's market, doesn't mean they are organic). The next day, I asked my farming co-workers if that other farm was organic and they said yes and they do a really great job. Whoops! The farm's logo, however, was generic and looked more like a sister company to Monsanto than your local, organic grower. And their stand was bland and not well staffed. Yes, I should have asked if they were organic and yes ,we need to get to know all out local farmers,. But, the average Josephine has a farm profile in her mind. A little elbow grease into the branding and profits could increase. For some farmers, it may mean diversifying to attract more customers not just at the farmer's market but to the farm itself. I read this article yesterday in the New York Times on Agritourism. Not only can, and should, farms market themselves better but they may find a new business opportunity and a way to hire more employees by starting a side business and offer farm stays, bed and breakfasts, work shares, pick-your-own, barn weddings, field dinners, etc...