Monday, September 6, 2010

Farm Tour 2010

We started our morning off really early today so that we could tour local farms as part of the Meet Yer Eats Event.  The first tour started at 8:30 in the morning so we rushed out the door to learn a little about sustainable farming in our area.  I thought I'd share what I gained from the tours.  Please note that the highlights below may or may not be entirely accurate as my memory is less than perfect!

Wolf Creek Farm

Wolf Creek Farm specializes in grass fed beef and was the first stop on our farm tour today.  It was incredibly interesting to see what it takes to run a medium sized cattle farm.  The owner discussed his difficulty finding good labor, the cost of  processing his steer, what it takes to keep his heard healthy without antibiotics, the roles of heifers vs. steer, as well as how the cows are selected and bred. I knew that most of our grocery meat was from feedlot cows but I wasn't aware that most of our grocery store hamburger is actually from spent milking cows.  The milking cows are often only 3 or so years when processed (i.e. they generally last just two milking cycles) whereas his heifers last 15 or so productive years until they are sold to less selective farms for their meat. The meat from Wolf Creek farm is exclusively from steer.

Wolf Creek Farm!
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 Ladybug in her boots.
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 Along for the ride.

Waterpenny Farm

After the awesome two hour tour at Wolf Creek, we headed on over to Sperryville to take a self-guilded tour of Waterpenny Farm.  It is a 10 acre farm growing a plethra of organic vegetables and chickens.  I learned so much information about gardening problems I can't possibly discuss it all here!  It was well worth the Farm Tour Ticket!! 

Here are some of the highlights:

-The owner stressed the importance of mulching EVERYTHING to reduce erosion, minimize the spread of disease, keep the vegetables clean, add organic matter to the soil, provide habitat for soil microbes and reduce soil compaction.  However, they warned us to not use hay for horses as the high quality hay is routinely treated with Picloram which is devestating to broad leaf plants.  Know your hay source!

-The importance of providing habitat for beneficial insects near your garden, i.e. areas that are unmowed and untouched.  They used Echinacea, BeeBalm, and Rudbeckia beds to provide good refuge for beneficial insects.

-To deal with flea beetles on eggplant the owner said she sprays the ground with Pyrethin (organic pesticide) before transplanting the eggplant and then uses floating row covers until the plant flowers.  Only then does she remove the covers.  After that she periodically sprays as-needed but once the plants are established they usually aren't a problem.

-To get rid of squash bugs the owner sprays her squash crop with kelp and baking powder every two weeks. By contrast, Radical Roots (see below) deals with squash bugs by growing his winter squash in flats and transplanting them.  He then uses row covers until the squash plant flowers.  Once the squash flowers the covers are removed and the squash bug impact is usually minimal. Good to know, right?!
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 The Mobile Chicken Unit

Radical Roots Farm

Radical Roots was our last stop on our tour.  By the time we got there it was already 3 in the afternoon and we had been farm touring since 8:30 in the morning.  It was a miracle our kids were not nightmares by that hour.

We chose to visit Radical Roots Farm (there were 18 farms to chose from) because it was the size of our property and we were curious to see how productive a community farm the size of our property could be.  We were pleasantly surprised!  They grew an amazing range of fruits and vegetables (even figs) as well as chickens.  Their system closely resembled Waterpenny's.

They had a lot of "pilot" programs/experiments including some untilled beds and such.  Radical Roots Farm was located on a hillside with sloping topography.  This was of particular interest to us because it too resembles our own yard. The owner talked quite a bit about the importance of entrapping water flow to reduce the need for irrigation. The garden beds ran parallel to the contours, hugging the hill.

These owners live by their sustainable ideals in every facet of their lives.  Even their home embodied the basic eco-principles of biomass and energy entrapment. For example, their floors were made of compacted adobe to retain and hold heat during the winter months.  The exterior walls were 18" thick and made of bricks made from recycled wood pallets and concrete pylons.  The owner was gracious enough to give us a tour of the entire home.  The house was only 1000 SF (20'x50'). but it was masterfully planned such that it felt like more than enough space for their family of four.  I was blown away.

 The Owner of Radical Roots.

Another mobile chicken unit!

Lasagna Mulching (Cardboard with wood mulch on top of black plastic). 

The house's interior.

One of my favorite features was this woman's pantry.  What a beautiful use of old canning jars!



Blogger Tracey said...

Very interesting post and pictures! Though none of those farms appear on the current list of certified humane raised and handled. (*Meets the Humane Farm Animal Care program standards, which includes nutritous diet without antibiotics or hormones, animals raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors.)

They should look into certification!

September 7, 2010 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger Admin said...

i love your post.. i really dreamnt of having a large farm as that.. anyway, i still have to finish my garden irrigation system. I am so tired of manually watering my garden

September 7, 2010 at 9:44 PM  
Blogger Aliceson said...

If my boss (at the dairy farm) has a cow that is injured beyond recovery, she'll sell her at auction for meat. She gets next to nothing for meat cows but if she can't sell it for milking, she doesn't have much choice. You'd be shocked if you saw the condition some of the animals are in that are sold at meat auctions. If they can walk (or limp) in to be slaughtered, that's good enough.

September 11, 2010 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger sheila said...

What a FUN post! I love farms! One day I'm going to take pics of all the old barns we come across.

September 13, 2010 at 6:00 AM  
Blogger Kate and Josh said...

Very neat! I bet you got some good tips. I guess our hay must be okay since we use it to mulch everything.

September 13, 2010 at 11:03 PM  

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