Flannel Jammies Farm

...praising God on our 1/5 acre of suburbia

Monday, February 24, 2014

lessons learned from the VABF conference, part two...

The second day of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference was a whirlwind of ideas, inspiration, and great food!

The conference offered SO MANY good topics and speakers this year.  It was terribly difficult to choose, but just before closing our eyes in the hotel the night before, Lanette and I had decided and marked in our conference schedules which sessions we'd attend.  After some sleep, some yummy brought-from-home breakfast goodies, and some caffeine, we were off to the conference!  Presentation files from all of the great sessions can be found HERE.

Workshop:  Selecting Farm Land and Location: Own, Loan, or Lease: The Waterpenny Example presented by Sue Ellen Johnson, Cliff Miller from Mount Vernon Farm, and Rachel Bynum from Waterpenny Farm

Perhaps I'm getting older, but I didn't realize until I walked into the room and chose my seat for this session that I'd met Cliff Miller and Rachel Bynum and visited their farms!  The hubs and I took a trip and attended the Rappahannok Farm Tour a few years back and these two farms were on the tour.  It was a great surprise and truly enhanced my experience in this session as these two farmers discussed the long term lease (40 years!) between Mount Vernon Farm and Waterpenny Farm.

Takeaway Tidbits:
   - Farmland must support your objectives!  
   - Longterm goals to consider:  livelihood, lifestyle, and legacy
   When considering land for farming, be honest with yourselves and take a long hard look at...
   - Land:  How much?  For a median income, you'll need 700 acres for a hay farm, 500 acres for a cattle farm, 30 acres for orchards, between 1 and 20 acres for nursery crops, 5 acres for a vegetable farm, 3 acres for a flower farm, 1 acre for a hydroponic greenhouse, and only 1/2 acre if you just want a subsistence garden and chickens or a subsistence garden and 1 cow.  In our region of Virginia, potted plants and cut flowers currently return the highest profits.
   - Land: Kind/Quality?  Be sure to check soil type/composition, topography, current fertility, current plant cover (what's it going to take to clear the land?), soil moisture/water table/drainage.
   - Water:  existence, locations on farm, functioning system of wells, capacity (for irrigation, for livestock, for washing), potability (can you wash your market veggies with it?), ponds/creeks/river/floodplain.  Water issues can be limiting.
   - You've found a farm!  Now:  walk the farm many times, talk to locals about farm's history, feel/smell the soil, evaluate current production potential, look at the functionality/maintenance/looks of farm's structures, carefully consider the septic system (particularly for agrotourism which means lots of guest to your farm needing to use the facilities!), consider the location and the distance/time to market, check local zoning, is there room to grow?

Organic Food Festival Potluck Lunch - an amazing array of organic foods brought by the attendees!  I brought homemade oatmeal bread with honey apple butter and strawberry honey jam.  Lots of delicious choices here!

Between to-doings, I made mad dashes to the Silent Auction, vendors in the Exhibition Hall, seed swap, and the ladies room!

Plenary Presentation:  Ray Archuleta, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Greensboro, NC, "Healthy Soils for Healthy Profits".  Mr. Archuleta is loud, proud, and on a mission to get our soils biologically healthy!  A showman and a scientist, this guy was very entertaining AND informative with interactive soil demonstrations, a slide show, and huge helpings of inspiration!

Workshop:  43560 Project presented by Clif Slade, Vegetable Specialist and 43560 Project Manager

Takeaway Tidbits:
   - "One acre of soil can do it" - 43560 = number of square feet in a single acre; this project set out to prove that if you could grow 1 head, 1 pound, or 1 bunch per square foot, selling at $1 - $1.25 per square foot, the gross income would be $43,560.
   - This was an "all in/all out" plan - plant in Spring, raise to harvest, done; plant buckwheat and clover for the rest of the summer; begin again in September for a second harvest to sell.
   - If you have a soil pH of 6.5, you're ready to consider this method; a low pH will have lots of weed problems and plants won't do well.
   - Marketing is key!!!  Utilize on farm sales, growing for CSA owners, selling your produce as a complementary items to PYO farms, restaurants, value-added items (painted, "adoptable" pumpkin babies); be a dependable supplier of whatever you produce.
   - Fertilization:  One 5-gallon bucket of pelletized poultry manure per 500 square feet; ten 5-gallon buckets of compost per square feet (sifted by hand), weekly applications of vermicompost tea.
   - Corn, tomatoes, cantelope, and watermelon cannot profit $1.25 per square foot in an "all in/all out" plan.

More visits to the vendors, and then the catered dinner.  Having spent the entire first day with Gunther Hauk and beginning to feel weary, we reluctantly decided to skip his plenary presentation. 

With cramped note-taking hand and overfull brain, I made my way to the Jeep with Lanette and headed to the hotel for a lovely soak in the hot whirlpool.  One more wonderful day to go!

Friday, February 7, 2014

lessons learned from the VABF conference, part one...

Recently a friend and I embarked on a journey together... to the Virginia Association of Biological Farming Conference in Richmond.
Lanette and me, conference buddies
Glorious.  Three days with beekeepers, growers, farmers, ranchers, teachers, authors, and foodies.  As another friend at the conference put it, "I am among my people."

Day One was a full-day intensive with Gunther Hauk of Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary in Floyd, Virginia.  He is a gentle soul, filled with knowledge and a great respect for the earth and for the bees.  There was so much to learn as he taught about biodynamic gardening and beekeeping!
Gunther Hauk showing the cow horn for a soil preparation
Workshop:  Biodynamic Gardening and Beekeeping presented by Gunther Hauk

biodynamic agriculture:
 a method of organic farming originally developed by Rudolf Steiner 
that employs what proponents describe as 
"a holistic understanding of agricultural processes".  
One of the first sustainable agriculture movements, 
it treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care 
as ecologically interrelated tasks, 
emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives. 
Proponents of biodynamic agriculture, including Steiner, 
have characterized it as "spiritual science" 
as part of the larger anthroposophy movement.
A slide depicting a natural queen cell
Takeaway Tidbits:  
 - Sustainable is the very base... we would like to go beyond that and THRIVE!
 - Enliven the soil, don't just feed it.  Get lots of microbial and fungal action into it.
 - When we work with nature, we create culture.
 - The breeding of the true future is working with the cosmos, not with the microscope.
 - Nurture the bees, don't only keep them.
 - Animal wisdom is called instinct.  When we go against instinct, we go against health.
 - Swarming is a bee instinct.  Gunther Hauk catches or traps his swarms rather than splitting to prevent swarms, which he sees as interference.  Why do bees swarm?  Overcrowding?  To reproduce the colony?  No.  Because The Great Bee said so!
 - Use a chicken or goose feather rather than a bee brush to gently move bees.
 - If necessary, Gunther does treat his hives with formic acid for mites.
Slide depicting the heart-shaped top bar comb
Brains filled with new and strange ideas, we decided to chat about the day over a quiet dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant.  Alas, it was not to be so.  Don't ask about the Mariachi band singing and playing Michael Jackson's "Beat It" with gusto.

Days Two and Three were filled with workshops, keynote speakers, an amazing Organic Food Festival Potluck lunch, lovely dinner, book signings, vendor tables, seed swap, and...

...more about all that in my next blog post!