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by Andrea Brendalen and John M. Thursgood

Rachel Nevitt and David Zuckerman of Full Moon Farm. Photo by Andrea Brendalen.

Full Moon Farm is a NOFA-Certified Organic farm run by husband and wife, David Zuckerman and Rachel Nevitt.  The farm started in 1999 at the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont.  The two purchased their 155-acre piece of land located in Hinesburg, Vermont in 2008 and began farming there in 2009.  Currently Rachel and David grow 20 acres of diversified vegetables and raise pigs and poultry. They market most of their produce through a CSA and have summer and winter shares.

Both Rachel and David have been standouts in their communities when it comes to conservation, stewardship, and politics.  This year David was elected to the Vermont Legislature as Senator representing Chittenden County.  He has worked on farms for most of his adult life in South Hero, Fairfax, Shoreham, and Burlington, Vermont.  Rachel has been active in both environmental and cultural education and in gardening and farming since graduating from college.

Since their start four years ago, Rachel and David have worked closely with Danny Peet, Soil Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to help transition their new land from conventionally farmed corn to a successful organic farm.  When asked why the couple contacted the NRCS, Rachel replied, “As organic farmers, we care very much about conservation and I think we show that in the way that we farm, but our primary reason for contacting the NRCS was to lessen the financial burden of installing irrigation and other necessities on an organic farm.”  Through a series of Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts, Rachel and David have made many environmental improvements including using shrubs for erosion control, cover-cropping and mulching, and installing a seasonal high tunnel and irrigation pond and pipe.

In the opinions of David and Rachel, the most significant change on the farm was with irrigation.  Without reliable irrigation for crops, it’s a gamble to begin planting for the fear of losing significant yield due to drought.  With the irrigation pond and pipe, water is now stored for distribution to nearby fields. When asked about the installation of the irrigation system, David Zuckerman stated, “Without the NRCS funding, we simply couldn’t have afforded it.”

Cover crops are foundational to soil health at Full Moon Farm. Photo by Andrea Brendalen.

Aside from irrigation, a number of other practices were applied to the farm.  Cover crops and mulch were utilized to help manage soil health and fertility, reduce soil erosion, conserve water, reduce pests and foster greater biodiversity and wildlife – all of which are of utmost importance on an organic farm.  Additionally, shrubs were planted to mitigate erosion at sites where head cutting had occurred due to practices used on the farm when it was mainly corn fields (head cutting is a geomorphic phenomenon where water falls vertically – like a waterfall – and carries sediment with it, thus causing erosion).

A seasonal high tunnel was added to the farm with the intent of extending the growing season.  Dave and Rachael are still learning how to best utilize the system.  One tactic they have used is extending the fall growing season for tomatoes and winter greens.  The winter greens consist of lettuce and mesclun and are harvested into December, and with some being harvested in March as a braising mix.

Full Moon farm would like to provide a continuous supply of greens to their CSA customers throughout the “non-growing” season.  To this end they are planning to raise heartier greens, such as kale and collards, outside into the late fall.  In their high tunnels, they would raise lettuce, mesclun, and spinach under row covers.  They could harvest the greens into January and would be able to start harvesting spinach in mid-February.  While the first harvest of spinach would be from the full growth in the fall before it goes dormant, the second harvest in March would be due to the crop coming out of dormancy.

Rachel and David speak very highly of the mission and purpose of the NRCS in that it makes it possible for farmers to make improvements on their farm with the assistance of Federal funding in order to improve the soil, air, and water quality, which benefits us all.

If you would like more information on the EQIP and AMA programs, please contact your local NRCS office.  For a complete directory please see: www.nrcs.usda.gov.

If you would like to learn more about Full Moon Farm you can contact David Zukermann and Rachel Nevitt via email at davidz@together.net or visit http://fullmoonfarminc.com.

by Petra Page-Mann

Welcome to our new feature column on the topic of seeds! As local and organic become mainstream, the seed sowing our food has largely been left out of the conversation. Why does seed matter? In no way small or simple, each seed (open-pollinated, hybrid, GMO) sows a story much larger and more complex than its unassuming beginning. That we would know and sow seed that embodies the abundance, diversity and tenacity that is agriculture: this is why I live well, grow seed and write. – Petra Page-Mann, Column Editor

The groundswell of small-scale, regionally adapted seed growing across the continent has been a pleasure to watch develop in the ten years that I have been farming.  From Maine to Tucson to Bellingham, I’ve saved seed on diverse farms and seed companies, bearing witness to the increasing interest and awareness of seed by gardeners, farmers and eaters alike.  These experiences have taught me that the significance of seed is in no way small.  Like food, the fact of seed is as much a subject of spirit as it is of supper, impacting every facet of what we value, reflecting the very nature of why we farm in the first place.  We now recognize and celebrate the renaissance of local food, with its innumerable benefits to farmers, eaters and ecology; the celebration of the regionally adapted, open-pollinated and organic seed that sows this abundance is just, and finally, emerging.

Sow Local: Petra Page-Mann, co-founder of Fruition Seeds, is part of the movement making resilient, regionally adapted, open-pollinated and organic seed vital in the Northeast. Photo courtesy of Jack Haley, Messenger Post Media.

Farming is challenging, growing seed no exception.  As members of tightly knit agricultural communities, we know it is the ability to adapt to ever shifting conditions that allows our farms to thrive.  To build this vision we need time, commitment, attention to detail and, above all, patience.  These varieties will not rival hybrid vigor in one or even three generations, though with vision and dedication they will soon become hallmarks of consistency and quality.  The individual and collaborative strengths of farmers, academia and industry making this vision reality in the Northeast give me hope that our grandchildren will know and sow seeds of regional resilience, diversity and abundance.

Chrystine Goldberg of Uprising Seed in Washington describes the significance of open-pollinated and regionally adapted seed beautifully: “If the modern industrial food system has done much to remove the faces behind the foods we eat, the seed industry represents the extreme of that trend.  Information regarding who grew the seeds, where they were grown, and under what conditions they were grown is almost never available to the public. Yet, as many of the traits involving how plants respond to their environment are hereditable, this information is very relevant to how the given seeds will respond in your environment.

As the seed community continues to change with more and more seed companies and varieties owned by a few, and the threat of GMO seed contamination looms, it is even more important to grow open-pollinated seeds, pass them along to others, and learn from all of those around us.  Seeds are ever-changing, relevant to time and place with stories to tell, yet seeds in the hands of common people is something we believe should never change.”

With each open-pollinated, hybrid and GMO seed we plant, we sow a different story.  This story goes much deeper than yield, and some of those stories will be told in future articles. Saving open-pollinated seed, we are reclaiming our agricultural heritage and preserving the wisdom of genetic diversity for generations to come.

A century ago, the Northeast was home to over a hundred seed companies growing their own seed.  This seed was regionally adapted, open-pollinated and organic:  before the 1930s and the birth of the agro-industrial complex, all seed was.

As it became settled, the West with its arid summers quickly became the center of dry-seeded crop production (such as lettuce and onion) whose seed, exposed to the elements, is prone to mold in the humid summers of the East.  With the ‘invention’ of hybrid seed in the 1930s, this production soon emphasized hybrid over open-pollinated (OP) varieties as a function of profitability.  The subsequent selection lacking in OP varieties has led to a completely unnecessary yet virtually systemic slouch in both consistency and productivity in OP, perpetuating the emphasis on hybrids; the nuances of these implications will be the subject of a future article. To this day, the dry summers of the Northwest remain the center of all North American seed production.

These arid summers transformed my own seed saving interest into a full-time passion over the seasons I spent in the Northwest.  Since the skills of saving seed never left the farms of this region, the West Coast has developed its small-scale, regionally adapted, OP and organic seed movement over a couple of decades.  In addition to tremendous conventional seed production, this area is home to well over a dozen small seed companies committed to growing OP, regionally-adapted and often certified organic seed for their bioregion.  For example, Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed has been developing phenomenal varieties, specializing in lettuce, for more than two decades.  Partnering with Oregon State University (OSU) and the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), Frank has built a model for seed production, breeding, marketing and farmer/university/industry collaboration.

There are many other leaders and innovators in the Northwest to be inspired by:  Brian Campbell and Chrystine Goldberg of Uprising Seed have selections from the Slow Food Ark of Taste, Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds selects for resilience in permacultural systems, and Andrew Still and Sarah Kleeger of Adaptive Seed are innovating varieties of vegetables worthy of their name.  Western universities such as Oregon State collaborate with small farms as well as industry to actively breed open-pollinated varieties for organic systems and have pioneered participatory plant breeding programs.  These engage organic farmer-breeder collaboration with university, nonprofit and private industry plant breeders to breed and/or improve plant genetics for organic systems.  Exploring and celebrating the significance of sustainable agriculture and seed, the Organicology conference is held each winter in Portland.  Indeed, the culture of growing and sowing such seed is well established and thriving in the Northwest.

Returning to my native Finger Lakes of western New York in 2010, I discovered seeds of the same taking root here in the Northeast. Seed saving in the East was, for decades, relegated to die-hard backyards and farms.  Despite the inherent challenges in growing certain seed crops, a handful of companies both small and large offer OP, regionally adapted and organic seed and are growing each year. Young entrepreneurs, like Ken Greene at Hudson Valley Seed Library, are bringing fresh insight to seed production and marketing in the Northeast, while seasoned veterans of the back-to-the-land era, like Will Bonsall and the Scatterseed Project, continue to preserve diversity and inspire the coming generations.  Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seed is forging new ground in seed production techniques and Lia Babitch of Turtle Tree is taking biodynamic seed to the next level in the Northeast.  Universities such as Cornell are also breeding OP varieties for organic systems and are partners in the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC).  Bringing together organic farmers, researchers and educators from four universities, the Organic Seed Alliance, and the USDA, NOVIC is actively addressing the seed and plant breeding needs of organic farmers through trialing and on-farm breeding.

With wisdom and vision from years of growing seed on both coasts, I am grateful to be launching Fruition Seeds this season with my partner, Matthew Goldfarb.  Growing regionally adapted and OP varieties for organic farms and gardens in the Northeast, we look forward to collaborating with other farmers, universities and industry partners spanning both coasts as we strive to provide and celebrate the diversity and resilience of bioregional seed.

From a rich history put on pause, the Northeast is just beginning to reclaim its legacy of regionally adapted, OP and organic seed.  For the abundance that brings us together at the table each day, for the diversity that adapts with every shift in climate, for the tenacity that keeps us all grateful:  we have much to learn from the seeds we sow.

Petra Page-Mann lives and farms in Naples, New York and founded Fruition Seeds in the Fall of 2012.  Petra may be reached at fruitionseed@gmail.com.

by John Wertis

The John Gordon Demonstration Nut Grove near Trumansburg, NY is just one of the possible stops on the evolving New York State Nut Tree Trail. John Gordon was a well-known horticulturist with a nursery near Buffalo. He specialized in breeding and growing woody plants; particularly nut trees, paw-paws and persimmons.  He was one of the founding members of the New York Nut Growers Association; the organization that features the “Nut Tree Trail” on their website at www.nynga.org.

The “Trail” is more than a map on a website, however. Each site identified is the home to growing nut trees of one or more species. At each site a contact person is identified who will be willing and able to answer your questions about the plants growing there. Black walnuts, butternuts, shagbark hickories, shellbark hickories, pecans, hazelnuts, heartnuts, English walnuts, American chestnuts, and hybrid chestnuts can be found at one site or another.

Some sites are on state lands or college properties open to the public year around. Other sites are on private lands and accessible by appointment. More sites are sure to be identified and added to the “Trail”. Perhaps you know of a flourishing nut tree orchard in NY that we have overlooked?  You can nominate these sites and see them added to the Trail” by following the simple directions on the NYNGA website. Join us in educating the general public about the benefits of nut trees and the fruit they produce.

For more information on the internship, or to report a rare tree, visit www.nynga.org, or contact John Wertis, president, at (607) 387-4331, or bwwfarmtoday@aol.com.

by Tianna DuPont

Mike Fournier from Penn State Extension demonstrates sheep shearing positions.

Finding someone to shear your sheep is becoming more difficult and expensive every year, and more and more farmers are looking to shear their own. Producers interested in learning to shear their own sheep, or those who may just need a refresher to brush up on their skills, can now look to the Web for help. We hope these videos will get you on a good track to doing your own shearing.

Penn State Extension’s Start Farming team realized the lack of good sheep shearing information when class after class of shearing workshops filled up, and folks were still asking for more.

The team created two videos, one explaining the tools needed to shear sheep and how to prepare and care for the shears, and one demonstrating the six shearing positions. To view the videos, please visit the Start Farming team’s website at extension.psu.edu/start-farming and click on the “Sheep” tab on the left side of the page.

In 2009 Penn State Extension launched the Start Farming program in response to increased interest in farm start-up from community members. The program’s goal is to enhance the success of beginning farmers by providing information and hands-on training in production, marketing, financial management, as well as land and other resource acquisition.  Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.

Learn how the pending rules could impact your farm and speak up! Comments will be accepted through May 16th, 2013.

by Jason Foscolo, Esq

Recent regulations from the Food and Drug Administration have the potential to dramatically affect the way farmers conduct their business. On January 16, 2013, the FDA debated a series of sweeping regulations for all produce growers in the United States. These rules, implemented under the much-talked about Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, will establish science-based regulations for the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce on all but the smallest domestic farms.

New standards are being proposed in 6 key areas of agricultural production:

1. Worker Training and Hygiene

Agricultural workers will be required to receive qualifications and training on hygienic food-handling practices. Growers, harvesters, and packers will be required to establish hygienic preventative practices that will prevent people from contaminating produce with the microorganisms most likely to make consumers sick, such as Listeria or Campylobacter.

2. Agricultural Water

Producers will have to establish inspection requirements, maintenance procedures, and sanitation standards for agricultural water, which is defined as any water that is intended to contact the harvestable portion of produce.

3. Biological Soil Amendments

Producers will have to classify biological soil amendments of animal origin as “treated” or “untreated”, require scientifically valid, controlled, physical and/or chemical processes that satisfy new microbial standards, and establish minimum application intervals for treated and untreated amendments.

4. Domesticated Animals

New rules will govern growing areas to which domesticated animals have access. At a minimum, an adequate waiting period between grazing and harvesting will be required in order to limit the consumer’s potential exposure to microbial hazards introduced by livestock into produce.

5. Equipment, Tools and Buildings

There will be new standards relating to maintenance and sanitation of tools and equipment that come into contact with produce, as well as requirements for buildings used in produce operations.

6. Sprouts

Regulations introduce a new set of standards applicable to the production of sprouts which cover their cultivation and handling, and which mandate the periodic testing of their growing environment for pathogens.

There are many nuances to these new production requirements. For example, the new standards do not apply to produce which is rarely consumed in-the-raw, such as artichokes, asparagus, or eggplant. The new rules also do not apply to products that receive a commercial “kill-step,” such as a heat treatment that will significantly reduce the presence of microorganisms in the final product.

The new rules also carve out certain limited exemptions for small farms. Farms with annual average sales of less than $25,000 during the previous three years are exempt from the proposed rules. In addition, “small businesses,” such as those with average annual total sales of less than $500,000 in the previous three years, who derive the majority of their sales from typical “direct market” sales within their state or within a 275 mile radius, also are exempt from the regulation. Larger farms will have the opportunity to “phase-in” their compliance with the new regulations over a period of years.

There are several good reasons for anyone in the agricultural industry to read these proposed rules, which can be accessed through the Food and Drug Administration’s website. This proposal constitutes a major overhaul of our system of food production that will impact all but the smallest-scale producers, so there is a good chance that the food safety rules will affect your finances.

Members of the public also have the opportunity to submit their thoughts and comments on these proposed rules by mail or electronically at www.regulations.gov.  Government agencies actually read the comments, and it is not uncommon for well-informed and well-stated commentary to affect final policy decisions. You have until May 16, 2013 to tell the FDA what you think of the new rules and how they will affect your business. Be sure to reference Docket Number FDA-2011-N-0921 when you submit your comments.

Jason Foscolo is the principal attorney at Jason Foscolo LLC, the law firm dedicated to the needs of farmers and food entrepreneurs. If you have any questions or concerns about this article, please contact him through his website at www.foodlawfirm.com.

Photo by Shona B. Ort  

Even peas can reach for the skies.

One of the first vegetables to arrive, nothing says spring like the crisp, fresh taste of peas.  Our photo feature this issue comes to us from Ort Family Farm in Bradford, NY.  Roger and Maria Ort primarily produce free range meats and open pollinated vegetable plants. However, a significant portion of their yard is composed of raised beds, in which they grow vegetables for themselves and occasionally for market in their on-farm store or farmers market booth. To learn more about Ort Family Farm, visit their Local Harvest page.

by June Bartos

An earlier version of this article was written in October 2011 for our farm blog. October 2012 marked our second year of life at Rod and Staff Farm. As I re-read it and look around us, I remain amazed by how far we’ve come in what feels like such a short time. The seasons seem to fly by us, each one as full, as challenging and as rewarding the one before it.

October 15, 2011 marked our one year anniversary at our dream farm. It went by so fast! Last year at this time I was feeling upset and unsettled, surrounded by our things and completely disorganized.  We insanely managed to piece things together enough to have a house warming only a week after we moved in. God blessed us with a beautiful and sunny autumn day for the occasion. Last year at this time our barn was cleaned out and filled with fall-colored paper lanterns, tables, food and friends. Our goals for the coming year were just a dream and a huge unknown.

Half-Moon & Chico, a Shetland ewe and ram. Photo by June Bartos.

Although I grew up in the country and my uncle was a dairy farmer, hands-on livestock experience was new to me. It was ALL totally new to my husband. I spent all of last fall and winter buried in books, talking to other farmers and researching myself into a state of research paralysis. My husband and I talked and discussed and planned.  I made Gantt charts and timelines, lists and calendars.

No one is more stunned than I am that we actually did it. We met and completed our goals for this year. My husband is of course the manifester of my many visions. He takes all the research and ideas and makes them concrete, three-dimensional and real. I tend to hash out the ideas and think more globally, working out the details as we go. We’re an awesome team. And I’m so grateful for that.  We framed out stalls, built a solidly engineered chicken coop, purchased our starter stock, built a chicken tractor, hashed out the logistics of feed (where to buy it) and hay (how to get it in the barn), built a small greenhouse, installed fencing; and of course, we made more plans.

George and his flock of Heritage Pilgrim Geese. Photo by June Bartos.

What I’ve learned this year is that farming and working with livestock is so much like learning to dance. When you first walk in the room it seems that everyone is better than you. They all know so much more and you feel overwhelmed. You are bogged down by the sense that it will take a lifetime to learn those steps. Then as you start to learn you feel clumsy and step on a few toes.  You are hardly graceful. But the more you practice, the easier it gets and eventually you get into a rhythm.  Before you know it, you realize that you are actually dancing and even more so, enjoying it.

The differences are that God and Mother Nature dictate which song is going to be played and missteps can result in more than hurt toes; they can result in losses big and small. You try not to make any, but they are inevitable. In order to know which steps to take you need to be listening as the band is cuing up and watching not only the other dancers, but the creatures and land in your charge.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to not feel a connection to the land and animals in your care. You watch and shepherd them, sometimes from birth all the way to adulthood. They watch you. There isn’t anything in your daily dance steps that doesn’t affect them. Suddenly you find yourself concerned and watchful of things that in the past were simply lost in the daily grind, like how hot, cold, wet or dry it is. You are mindful of the condition of the grass, when to mow, the texture of the soil and the price of corn. Wild animals in nature that were once considered a cute novelty are now suddenly creatures to be wary of.

I spoke with someone a couple months ago and we discussed how many years earlier she and her husband had purchased land and an old farm to “have a horse or two.” In the years since they have greatly expanded beyond that idea. She said, “You know, the land and the farm, it makes you feel responsible, like you have to do something with it.” She is so right. The land, the earth, the animals – they feel the rhythm even more than you, and when you get in on it you feel like you’ve been kept out of a well-known secret for the longest time, and it imbues in you a joy in simple being that can’t be described.

Onyx, a Shetland ewe. Photo by June Bartos.

Everyone I meet on the “outside” can’t imagine or can’t believe the “work” involved. “It’s so much work,” I hear continually. The word work is relative. It is work, I suppose, and requires effort and exercise, both physical and mental. But to me it is no more work than rushing my kids off to school and myself to an office job, commuting, spending eight hours away from home, commuting again, picking up my children, rushing back home or to after-school activities, pounding down a meal and then having a few minutes of down time (if we’re lucky) together before going to bed and getting up and doing it all again the next day. I know because I did just this for far too many years. There was a rhythm to it, yes, but it was no dance, and rarely a joy. That felt like work.

There are a few rough moments here and there in the pouring rain, blinding snow or wind and cold, but the rewards far outweigh the sacrifice.  I get to see the pure joy of six little ducks waiting patiently in line for me to fill their pool with clean water and then watch them splash around, talking the entire time about how great it is. I get to give lambs chin scratches and watch them wag their tails. I get to collect fresh eggs every day. I get to watch pasture that was once nothing but rough brush turn into lush green grass, with the help of timely mowing and selective sheep, ducks and geese and their oh-so-wonderful manure and droppings. I get to experience the joy of exhausting physical work, knowing that I’ll be able to see the results. Two hours spent cleaning out the coop and duck and goose stalls leads to happy, comfortable, healthy poultry, which leads to fresh eggs for me and healthy offspring next year.

Tuppence, a Nubian doe. Photo by June Bartos

At the end of this year I will still find myself a novice dancer, unsure of myself and looking at my feet whenever I move, but I am loving the music and the dance.

June Bartos and her husband Christopher own Rod and Staff Farm in Bloomfield, New York. They raise Shetland sheep, Pilgrim geese and mixed breed dairy goats, along with a host of chickens and ducks.  In addition to homeschooling, knitting, spinning, sewing, weaving and gluten-free cooking, June also manages their website www.rodandstafffarm.org, where she hosts an on-line marketplace that will open to other farmers and artisans in January 2013.  For more information, please visit their website or contact them at rodandstafffarm@gmail.com

by Stephanie Fisher

A first time mom gets to know her new baby. Photo by Stephanie Fisher.

I spent most of 2011 working and living in Brooklyn, NY with my boyfriend. I manned phones and servers in the semi-glamorous world of mail-order meat, while he managed an independent ice cream store in mid-town. We were trying our luck at post-graduate success, although it seemed our luck was running out; the effects of the constant adrenaline that come with living in a bustling metropolis were beginning to show, and we were searching for a way out of the grind.

We were introduced to a pair of Vermont dairy goat farmers at a function for my job. We were somewhat in awe of the young, handsome couple, especially since their farm held a highly regarded reputation in New York City. In between the usual small talk, I mentioned that my boyfriend and I had dreams of working in agriculture, and even of owning our own farm. We exchanged contact information as a formality and then parted ways.

Three months went by before the farmers contacted us about an upcoming internship opportunity. I struggled with the decision, having been offered a second year at my company, with a hefty salary as bait. I wasn’t even a year out of college and already I was turning down a desirable position at a somewhat trendy organization in one of the toughest cities in America. While all of our friends were trudging their way along career-oriented paths, I couldn’t help but feel like I was stalling-out, moving farther away from the elusive job security that my university degree is supposed to guarantee.  But we couldn’t say no.

After various email exchanges, two-week notices, a lease cancellation, and many bittersweet good-byes to close friends, we found ourselves and our packed car in a tiny village in eastern Vermont where we would live for the next two months as the farm’s kidding interns.

We lived about a mile from the farm on the second story of an old fish and game building downtown. This, of course, defies all known definitions of downtown. Our building was among only a few others, including a firehouse across the street that sponsored monthly pancake breakfasts. Besides us, the fish and game also housed the weekly farmers market, where local vendors would sell hot food, fresh meats, and handmade goods. Practically the entire village would show up for the weekly meet-up; it was a foreign but welcome sensation to recognize every face in the room.

Although the first doe wasn’t due for another week, I was eager to work my desk-jockey exhaustion away. That’s why we left the city in the first place, to connect with something real and physical, something that mattered and made a difference beyond small-batch artisan ice cream and customer service. But instead of the never-ending lifting, bending, and cleaning that I had imagined farm work would be, we spent a lot of time discussing and observing. (I was so consumed by this preconceived notion that I made a point to mention my small stature and presupposed inability to lift fifty pounds in every farm-job interview we had.) The famers showed us their endless record keeping system, their precise farm procedures, their business plans and grant proposals – all things familiar to me after working the previous four years in administration.

We lived about a mile from the farm on the second story of an old fish and game building downtown. This, of course, defies all known definitions of downtown. Our building was among only a few others, including a firehouse across the street that sponsored monthly pancake breakfasts. Besides us, the fish and game also housed the weekly farmers market, where local vendors would sell hot food, fresh meats, and handmade goods. Practically the entire village would show up for the weekly meet-up; it was a foreign but welcome sensation to recognize every face in the room.

A curious doe takes a peak. Photo by Stephanie Fisher.

Although the first doe wasn’t due for another week, I was eager to work my desk-jockey exhaustion away. That’s why we left the city in the first place, to connect with something real and physical, something that mattered and made a difference beyond small-batch artisan ice cream and customer service. But instead of the never-ending lifting, bending, and cleaning that I had imagined farm work would be, we spent a lot of time discussing and observing. (I was so consumed by this preconceived notion that I made a point to mention my small stature and presupposed inability to lift fifty pounds in every farm-job interview we had.) The famers showed us their endless record keeping system, their precise farm procedures, their business plans and grant proposals – all things familiar to me after working the previous four years in administration.

After saying our morning hellos, the two of us would head to the separate kidding barn where we were greeted by the deafening bleats of around 100 baby goats. All of the kids would be jumping and bouncing with uncontainable excitement at the sight of us. We had to rush into the pens with their milk buckets or risk being trampled by their tiny, unruly bodies. They would grab onto anything they could and attempt to draw-out milk: fingers, zippers, shoelaces, ear lobes… In about an hour and a half’s time, the barn would be nearly silent as the kids’ bellies were filled and they would begin to cuddle-up for their post-breakfast naps. At the end of the morning, we’d survey the furry, vibrating mounds, every kid fitting just so perfectly into their respective piles like pieces of live jig-saw puzzles.

The babies never ceased to be cute and amusing, but the farmers warned us about the sometimes-morbid nature of dairy farming. “Where there is livestock, there is deadstock.” Having worked for a meat reseller and butcher shop, I had seen my fair share of slaughterhouses and animal carcasses, so I thought myself well prepared for my new industry. But of course I remember my first kid death, and it was nothing like slicing deli ham.

A three-week old kid had aspirated milk into her lungs. We found the tiny doe listless, her breathing labored and temperature below normal. She was clearly beyond help, and began to fade in the farmer’s arms. She let out three painful, desperate cries, each beginning quietly and ending in a hollow crescendo. The farmers identified them as the “death cries.” Shortly after, her breathing stopped. I couldn’t believe I watched the literal life of this animal disappear into the ether right there in the barn. That wouldn’t be the last time we’d hear those unmistakable cries; we’d witness plenty more goat deaths over the next year. Just as the farmer’s warned, there will always be deadstock, try as you might to save every animal.

Our internship came to an end in late April, just as the days were beginning to thaw. We ceremoniously packed up our car and once again said bittersweet goodbyes. We coordinated jobs at a start-up goat dairy in Washington and pushed ourselves through another instantaneous transition to living on the West Coast. Our education as goat farmers continued.

A four-month-old doeling nibbles in the grass. Photo by Stephanie Fisher.

We returned to the East Coast in a year’s time, and things remained largely as we left them. Our friends were continuing their climbs up their respective career ladders, our favorite bars were still overcharging for beers. Although we were effectively unemployed for twelve months, we managed to live in two different states and drove our car across the country twice, adding nearly 20,000 miles to the odometer (this of course doesn’t account for the infinite miles we added to our autobiographical till).

Our financial chips were down, but we had promise in our future as we returned to the same Vermont farm where we started, not as interns, but as employees. We’re pleased to be making a wage, but we’re also grateful to continue working in a job that exhilarates us every day. All the decisions I made throughout college were safe – relevant internship after relevant internship – steering me toward an indefinable goal. Farming seemed like a complete departure from everything sensible, but it was just an unexpected detour. Like most things in life, farming is an indescribable combination of applied knowledge, intuition, and luck.

Stephanie Fisher is a beginning dairy goat farmer in Vermont. You can find her and her boyfriend’s blog at mountaincreatures.tumblr.com. She can be reached at stephaniefishes@gmail.com.

by Dan Livingston

Though the internet has the potential to help grow a business, many farmers have trouble finding the most effective ways to utilize their time and energy online in order to get the best return on their efforts.

Farm CSA’s use Wholeshare to attract new members, and retain the ones that they’ve already got.

Wholeshare (www.wholeshare.com) is an online marketplace for local and sustainable foods that allows groups of people to buy local and sustainably produced food from wholesale distributors and farmers.  Wholeshare works together with food hubs such as Hudson Valley Harvest and Regional Access to bring the products that they aggregate into the CSA programs of farms throughout New York State (as well as in areas of PA, CT, VT, MA and NJ).  This allows farmers to attract new members, and retain the ones that they’ve got.  It’s an adaptable and versatile system, and each Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that uses it (currently over a dozen) is using it in a different way.

What follows are profiles of two CSA farms in which the farmers themselves describe how they are using Wholeshare to grow their CSA program, to strengthen their connection to their shareholders and communities, and to save time while bringing in more each season.

Bernie with the three goats of Three Goat Farm CSA. Photo by Denise Szarek.

Three Goat Farm CSA, Westmoreland, NY

In 2005, Denise and Bernie Szarek launched “Old Goat Salsa” using hydroponic tomatoes grown in their greenhouse.   As the economy started to tank in 2009, they decided to look to a CSA model for the farm to secure a better market for growing vegetables. Bernie says, “We believe we are one of the few CSA’s in New York State to grow our veggies using hydroponic methods. We use a mineral based nutrient solution to feed our plants, which allows them to take up those minerals directly by their roots. No pesticides, herbicides or fungicides are used on the farm.”

They began offering Wholeshare as an option to CSA members in June of 2012. Their Wholeshare group is open to their CSA members as well as to anyone in the area. The group now has 70 members and is growing. According to Denise, “We do monthly Wholeshare pick-ups on the farm, and this seems to work with all of the members’ busy schedules. In 2013, we will be adding a physical structure we’re calling the ‘Farmshed’ to the farm to make it more convenient for members to pick up their CSA shares and Wholeshare orders. It will also serve as a place to hold workshops on topics such as how to buy local food on a budget, food storage and preservation, and recipe exchange.”

Their CSA members enjoy having Wholeshare as an option because it means access to a broader range of healthy and local products at their pickups.  Denise adds, “The idea was always to include value added foods with the fresh vegetables available through our CSA. From the very beginning, we have partnered with other area farmers to offer meat, eggs, yogurt and additional veggies to CSA members. So, when we were approached by Wholeshare last winter to offer food from many regional farmers at wholesale prices, it was a no brainer.”

Bret, Stephanie and Hazel operate Hemlock Creek CSA. Photo by Stephanie Roberts .

Hemlock Creek CSA, Stevens Point, PA

Bret and Stephanie got into farming after college. They were looking for a way to do something practical with all of their passion for food.  Farming was their way of doing something to make the world better.

Their farm is in the Endless Mountains region, and straddles the Twin Tiers with 300 acres sprawling across the NY/PA border. They grow vegetables on 5 acres for a 60 member CSA, with the rest of their land kept as pasture and woodlands. They have a small dairy herd of 3 cows and growing. Their plan for this coming season is to grow their CSA up to 100 members.

That’s where, Stephanie says, Wholeshare fits in. “Wholeshare has drawn in new members through word of mouth who aren’t usual market customers and so I think that’s helping the CSA-side of our business by giving us more exposure and drawing more members into our CSA through the idea of bulk ordering.”

Farming vegetables in a remote area between Binghamton, NY and Clarks Summit, PA can be difficult. A trip to a quality grocery store can take the better part of a day, which often seems impossible during the growing season, while in the winter because of harsh weather, it often is impossible. “To me,” says Stephanie, “Wholeshare means access to good products at a good price and in bulk, which is invaluable.

Bret and Stephanie have also found Wholeshare useful in retaining CSA membership and interest throughout the winter.  Stephanie says, “One of the main reasons we chose to use Wholeshare after our season ended was to keep in touch with our members, as well as to attend the Clarks Summit Essential Eating Farmers Market, and to sell some storage vegetables that wouldn’t have been enough to make the trip otherwise.”  She adds, “It’s been really great these past few winter months getting to see everybody and catch up with them and share good food. It’s a good way to keep in touch.”

To bring Wholeshare to your farm and your community go to http://www.wholeshare.com.  For more information about the farms featured in this article, go to http://www.threegoatfarm.com or www.hemlockcreekcsa.com.

Dan Livingston’s past experience includes working for a small non-profit online farmers market called Central New York Bounty, as well as the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY).  Dan now works as the Director of Community Outreach for Wholeshare.com. He has helped connect over 60 communities throughout New York State to local and sustainable foods, and is shaking up the food system by empowering individuals and groups to put good food at the center of their communities.

by Kim Mills, Sue Rau, Jason Evans, and Jim Ochterski

In this article, we draw on our experiences with two local food markets operating with Local Food Market Software to describe how software can be used to help build and support a local food market.

Schoharie Fresh market day. Producers from Elderberry Herb Farm (back left), and Sap Bush Hollow (back right), dropping off their products to Schoharie Fresh intern Liz Goblet (front right), and Project Coordinator Maureen Blanchard (front left).

Schoharie Fresh (http://www.schohariefresh.com) is an online consumer retail market in Schoharie County, New York.  This project was established with the support of a New York State Healthy Food/Healthy Communities grant.  Schoharie Fresh was launched in August, 2010 using the Local Food Market software.

The North Country Grown Cooperative (www.northcountrygrownmarket.com) is a local wholesale market in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, has been in operation for many years, and began using this software in August, 2011.  Adapting the software to the North Country Grown Market was supported by grants from the Cornell Small Farms Program and the USDA.  The Local Food Market software we describe was also developed with support from the New York Farm Viability Institute.

In both markets, Local Food Market software is used to reduce transaction costs, and make the market more profitable through increased convenience, reduced uncertainty, and building a local market database.  Local Food Market software is a management tool to complement the operation of a local food market.

Using Software in Local Food Markets

All markets have costs associated with bringing buyers and sellers together to complete a transaction, and in a local food market these include:

  • A grower investing in production with uncertain future sales,
  • A buyer finding local products at specific times, prices, and  quantities, and
  • A market manager identifying producers, products, and prices, and managing invoices, delivery, purchase orders, and inventory.

In Schoharie Fresh and The North Country Grown Market, we used software to improve the flow of information, and provide better coordination of market activities.  While all transaction costs outlined above are not impacted by this software, many transaction costs are reduced.  The benefit to both markets has been increased convenience, reduced uncertainty, and a database of information on the market.  For each topic below, we describe examples of how Local Food Market software helps support profitability.

Increased Convenience

Ways that customized, online software increases convenience for buyers, sellers, and managers in a local food market include the following examples:

North Country Grown Market member farmer John Dewar of Village Veggies in Potsdam, NY.

  • Schoharie Fresh farmers know in advance order pickup dates and how much inventory is actually sold—they know which products and exact amounts to harvest and deliver for sale.  Farmers and their staff are not tied to a physical market location for an entire day.
  • Schoharie Fresh customers benefit from a larger number of farmers to buy from, increased product variety, and clear prices.  This is due to an “open door policy” for local farmers, which is easily accommodated in an online market.
  • Customers have the convenience of shopping from home, as well as the opportunity for some in-person interaction with local farmers and access to product samples at the pick-up site.
  • On a twice weekly cycle, the manager of North Country Grown Market assigns pending sales to member farmers from a software-generated sales report.  Compared to the previous paper based system, this step is a great time saver. Generating purchase orders from the software is more easily carried out, allowing the cooperative to pay farmers in a timely manner even during the busiest periods of the season.

Reduced Uncertainty

Ways that customized, online software reduces uncertainty for buyers and sellers in a local food market include the following examples:

  • North Country Grown Co-op member buyers prefer to buy from local member farmers, but face uncertainty in product availability.  The Co-op has asked buyers for purchase projections for several years, and in the previous paper based system, recorded a single, annual quantity for a product that farmers used in crop planning.
  • North Country Grown Market software is now used to collect buyer purchase projections and farmer forecasts for the coming season in two week intervals.  Detailed software reports, comparing purchase and forecast quantities over two week intervals support both pre-growing season and in-season adjustments.  This tool helps the cooperative to optimize sales of local products.  Aggregate projections and forecasts are used for planning the next season’s purchases and sales.
  • In both Schoharie Fresh and North Country Grown Market, an online inventory feature tracks products as buyers submit their orders.  Double selling or ordering an item that has already been sold is eliminated, and buyers can be nearly certain they will receive everything they have ordered.  Farmers can download their purchase orders for delivery day, and know exactly the products, quantities, prices, and total sales for the day.  Farmers also have access to historical sales records.

Database of Information on the Market

Ways that customized, online software builds a database of information on the market to better support market operations include the following examples:

  • In Schoharie Fresh, record keeping of all accounting functions is supported by the system database. Managers can print invoices, orders, and summary reports. Specific product orders can be generated as needed, such as to settle a disputed order.
  • In the past, the North Country Grown manager had to manually generate an invoice for each buyer during each delivery period.  A corresponding set of purchase orders had to be generated for each farmer. Invoices and purchase orders had to match inventory, with each item entered by the manager once on the invoice and once on the purchase order. Only the manager could ensure all necessary details were correctly recorded. Now a database of sales transactions is used to generate buyer invoices and purchase orders for farmers. Financial data is exported from the system to provide the necessary detail to a bookkeeper to manage the financial records of the cooperative.
  • North Country Grown farmers typically kept planting records on paper, but not always in a well-organized format.  Farmers can now log into their North Country Grown account and enter planting data for each crop, and several succession plantings of the same crop.  Seed variety, expected and actual planting and harvesting dates, and expected and actual crop yields are recorded.  Planting databases for each member farm provide a detailed and easily retrieved record to plan from in the next growing season.

The software allows the manager to assign pending orders to member farmers with a mouse-click. Producers offering a product can be assigned to an order, the assignment can be cancelled and re-assigned, and the pending order can be reduced in quantity or divided into multiple orders.

Summary

We used our experiences with two local food markets in New York State to describe opportunities for creating more profitable markets.  We focused on “back-office” operations where we used software to better manage the flow of information between buyers, sellers, and market managers and to better coordinate many of the activities required to operate a local food market.

We identified three benefits of using Local Food Market software: increased convenience, reduced uncertainty, and building and using a database of market information.  This approach may help expand small farm access to local and regional markets, and make local food more easily available to wholesale and consumer markets.

For more information on the Local Food Market software described here or partnering on a local food market project, please contact Kim Mills at millsk@morrisville.edu, 315-256-5182 or www.buylocalfoodmarket.com.

Kim Mills teaches in the Computer & Information Technologies department at Morrisville State College in NY, and develops software for local food markets. He can be reached at millsk@morrisville.edu.

Sue Rau is a farmer and the manager of North Country Grown Cooperative in Canton, NY. She can be reached at manager@northcountrygrown.com.

Jason Evans teaches in the Agricultural Business department at SUNY Cobleskill, and manages Schoharie Fresh.Com.  He can be reached at evansjr@cobleskill.edu.

Jim Ochterski is Agriculture and Natural Resources Issues Leader with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Ontario County, and is leading an effort to work with local famers, chefs, and consumers to establish new markets for local food.  He can be reached at jao14@cornell.edu.

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