Wednesday, November 26, 2014

...'Til the Veggies Come In

April 7, 2007
Opening day of the Market
As evidence of our total naïveté, when we decided to take our chances doing the Farmers’ Market, we didn’t reckon on the weather.

April in the Valley is cold.

Spring is just a date on the calendar.

It has been known to SNOW  on opening day of the Market.

No…we didn’t reckon on the weather. 

We also failed to realize that COLD weather and vegetable farming don’t work well together.

With no way to get a jump on the season, (to have any sort of produce, you must do some serious advance planning...and a greenhouse/hoophouse (that we didn't have) really helps) we did understand that our Market offerings would be sparse.  For quite some time.

Which led the Boss to utter the infamous words…

“So…could ya just bake ‘till the veggies come in?”

Yeah, sure.

I mean…how long could it be?

Try ten years and well over 15,000 loaves of bread.


More than 15 thousand loaves of bread from our little kitchen here on the hill.


We started off with a couple loaves of bread and a few cakes.

Opening Day - 1998

The next week we made a little more bread. And so on and so on.


Soon, my Fridays were taken over with flour and yeast and potholders.
just a little bread 

We baked our way through FOUR ovens and countless heating elements.

The weight limit on our minivan was tested more than once as we hauled flour home in 50# sacks. Something like 12 at a time (plus oatmeal and sugar and yeast and…)

Cinnamon rolls and white icing threatened to take over my life.

just the thought of cinnamon rolls makes me cringe

Somehow, I had become a professional/commercial baker.

Hmmm, that really wasn’t the plan.

While the gardens got larger, so did restaurant sales.  There just wasn’t that much produce left for Market…and it seemed everyone loved that bread!  The bread sales became the "golden handcuffs" and even after we quit restaurant sales, we were just making too much money to quit and turn our attention elsewhere.

Somewhere along the way, the Boss found a BIG mixer for sale.  (yes, I was still using the 4qt. KitchenAid we got shortly after our marriage) One of the market vendors was expanding his operation and opening a storefront.  He decided to sell his mom and dad’s enormous mixer for an amazing price.  He got something even bigger and better.

We became the owners of “Big Mo”.

"Big Mo" took over the kitchen

*For years afterward, every time I saw the elder Mrs. Yoder, she would say “you know you got a great deal on that mixer!” Yes ma’am, I KNOW we did.  …and thank you very much!*

The 30 quart mixer was built like a tank.  It was so heavy that the Boss put it on rollers and every Thursday evening we would roll it into position for Friday’s all-day bake-a-thon. It made dough mixing a breeze, but clean-up was a major work-out. I certainly didn’t need any trips to the gym for upper body workouts after swinging that big bowl around!
Friday bake-a-thon in progress

But, quite honestly, being a baker was NOT my life dream. (I’m still not sure what my life dream IS, but I do know baking was NOT it) Flour hung in the air constantly, it felt like I never went outside, and there was always something to clean. …and I was getting fat from all the very necessary taste-testing.

So, I was just a little relieved (and totally freaked out) when flour prices tripled in the course of a week. (eventually they would come back to somewhat “normal” levels). YIKES! There is not much profit-margin in baking anyway.  And, we certainly couldn’t triple our prices. Perhaps it was time to re-think this whole thing.

After much deliberation, we decided it was time to hang up the potholders and focus strictly on the farm.  That meant I headed outside to work. (YAY)

Big Mo found a new home. (YAY)

While our Market customers were sad at first, they eventually got over it and found bread elsewhere.  Blondie took some of my recipes (and added a number of her own) and started her own baking business. (YAY Blondie!) Check out Country Rhodes Produce and Bakery.

                       …and I’m glad to say…

                    The veggies FINALLY came in!

mid-summer Market offerings

Lessons Learned:
Before agreeing or volunteering, check the terms of agreement. (wink)

You would be amazed what you can do with just a little perserverance!

Kitchen choreography is a real thing.  I can tell you how to run 75-100 loaves of bread through a single oven and get them ready for Market in a single day.  (really)

The original KitchenAid mixers are awesome.  Mine is STILL going after 30 years.

I will never look at a cinnamon roll the same way again!

I hope you're reading along with the other bloggers in the 30 day Challenge!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Food as Art

with Granddaddy in the garden

I think I was just two or three years old the first time I ever planted a seed.

So, I can safely say that I’ve spent my life involved in some sort of food production.  Between us, the Boss and I have ages of experience growing food.  Did you read  this one?

As a kid, I really just thought of food as well…food.  You planted the garden and tended it, it grew, you harvested it, and you ate it.  It didn’t really matter what it looked like.  Especially if you were hungry! You can read about that HERE.

That changed with our foray into the world of restaurant sales.

We started selling to restaurants long before “farm-to-table” was a thing. KNOW YOUR FARMER, KNOW YOUR FOOD had yet to be uttered.  Nobody really cared about local food.  Well, except in Berkley.  Alice Waters at Chez Panisse  (Berkley, CA) and the Herbfarm in Washington State are considered the  true pioneers of the movement, and they’d been pursuing local food for quite some time.

…but, I digress. 
fresh from the garden

We weren’t looking to make a statement or start a revolution. Our venture into restaurant sales was but one more attempt to make our fledgling farm a profitable entity. We joined a small group of growers who took the plunge and introduced the chefs to the wonder of fresh…really fresh…vegetables.  

The chefs, in turn, introduced the growers to a whole new way of looking at produce.

even if you don't like veggies
you've got to admit
this is gorgeous!

Vegetables weren’t just valued as a source of nutrition.  They could be beautiful as well. This was eye-opening to me. 

check out the size of that ZUCCHINI!

Having grown up eating from the home garden, I was accustomed to zucchini that could double as baseball bats (or canoes), peas the size of marbles and greens that needs hours of cooking to soften them.  But, when picked at much earlier stages of maturity, vegetables were a whole new taste experience. I began to look at the garden in a whole new light.

Young, tender...FRESH...vegetables are things of wonder.
this little zucchini will be the perfect size

…and the taste difference is extraordinary.

After three seasons of juggling restaurant sales and the Market, we narrowed our focus to strictly Market sales. The reactions to "restaurant stuff" at the Market was priceless. We actually heard "I ain't never seen nuthin' like THAT bee-fur!" more than once.  While the restaurants were willing to pay top dollar, we liked the true personal interaction of the Market better. It was there we got immediate feedback, a chance to educate the public and the exchange of some delicious and delightful recipes.

beautiful back-lit chard

But, once you start to see vegetables as a chef might...

…you will never go back to zucchini canoes or marble-sized peas. 

Over time, our varietal choices began to change as well, as we searched for eye-catching as well as the tasty.

The efforts have paid off because our customers say we have beautiful vegetables. Post-harvest care plays a huge part in the presentation of beautiful vegetables.  It also allows them to last far longer for the customer. (this is why we hydro-cool everything and keep it all in the cooler prior to sale) And, there's just something satisfying about a cooler full of produce prior to Market day.

Dealing with the chefs allowed us to see that harvest isn’t just a chore...

                      …it’s an ever changing experience in beauty!

Lessons Learned:

Bigger is not necessarily better.

Fresh food is amazing!

Food should be beautiful as well as delicious.

I love my job!

Be sure to check in with the 30 day Ag blogging challenge...right HERE!

Monday, November 24, 2014

I Owe a Lot to Alternative Ag

herbs, gardens and broilers - September 1998

You know, if it hadn’t been for the proponents of “alternative ag”, the Boss and I might not have looked at this place and considered the true possibilities. 

If we had not been encouraged to  "think outside the box" ,  we never would have taken the chances that led to "the Opportunity of a Lifetime".

I don’t know if we would have been so concerned over labels and definitions, sustainable practices and environmental issues.

"stacked" production
(lots of variety/small space)

We wouldn’t know what it meant to “stack” production or have considered the Farmers’ Market as a career choice.

We never would have become certified-organic…and the benefits of small-scale production would have been overlooked.
farmers' market - 2010

Herbal medicine and holistic animal care would still be great mysteries.

Ultimately, a whole lot of learning/growing opportunities would have been missed. And I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be who we are or where we are today.

recognize this?
it's the same shot as above - 1 year prior
I have said this before, but it bears repeating.  No one would look at this property and immediately say “FARM!” Maybe we were naïve, maybe we were just desperate, but we saw possibilities, partly because we were being encouraged to question Big Ag and conventional wisdom. This truly worked to our advantage in the early days.

By not limiting the definition of FARM to big and conventional, we found our place in the world as small-scale, direct-marketing producers. This has served us (and our children) well for years now.

BUT, ironically, it is our experiences as small-scale producers that has given us a greater appreciation of those whose practices are completely unlike our own. We now understand the need for large operations, as we are able to see the true scope of demand.  I don’t for one moment think that everyone should shop the Farmers’ Market for all their needs. I know that there is no way small-scale producers will ever feed the world…and I can almost guarantee it will never be done organically!

Over the years, we realized that if we were going to question conventional wisdom, we better question everything. Even the things we were hearing in alternative ag circles.  That was an eye-opening experience! Much of the information used by those in the alternative ag movement to promote their practices over conventional is just plain false.  Or at least sadly out-dated. I’ll be real honest---that was terribly disheartening. To find that those we admired were “spinning” information for their own benefit, just to make themselves and their practices look better, really bothered me.  (and it still does…and it happens a lot) Honesty is the best policy and if your product or practice is truly better, it will sell itself without any type of competition-bashing. In many ways, we learned what NOT to do.

Personal experience on “both side of the aisle” have given us a different perspective and appreciation for all things Agriculture.  We’ve tried a lot of things while living and learning here on the hill…some have worked incredibly well and some have failed miserably. On more than one occasion, we have come to understand why those alternative practices never became widely accepted as conventional wisdom.

garden work

We found our own successful methods when it came to growing things, both plants and animals. Some of our practices fall in the alternative category, some are a little more conventional.  It was surprising to find how much the supposed polar opposite practices actually overlap.

Eventually, we gave up our organic certification. Most of our customers really didn’t care, they had come to know and trust us. While there were a lot of reasons, it was really surprising to learn that despite public perception, organic does NOT necessarily mean less toxic, or more nutritious. The added cost of organic inputs grants no real benefit in the long run, except to boost the price. (I know I just made somebody really mad…sorry…) And, even though we can no longer legally use the “O” word, our practices remain the same.

And while herbal medicine and holistic animal care have their place, there are times when animals and humans will die without the benefit of modern medicine and antibiotics. Medications are only used in a thoughtful, careful and lawful manner.
lambs being checked for anemia
(this one looks good)

We no longer fit in a tight category, although we do benefit greatly from those customers who want to support small, local farms and want to feel like they really KNOW the farmers who are providing their food.

By questioning everything we thought we knew, we have learned to provide fresh, nutritious, local food to our customer friends using the least toxic, most environmentally friendly methods at a reasonable price. And, we’ll be glad to share our knowledge on all those buzzwords and hot topics. 

Yes, we do owe a lot to alternative ag…
...our eyes are open...
the farm in summer
(Tony Giamarrino image)

the gardens in summer
(Tony Giamarrino image)

                         ...if nothing else, it started us on this whole farming/learning/life adventure!


Lessons Learned:
There is not necessarily just one way to do anything.
Keep an open mind and a learning attitude.
There is always room for improvement.
Public perception is often incorrect.

Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate!

The 30 Day Ag Blogging Challenge is still going strong.  Check it out HERE.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sunday Walkabout 11-23

Ahhh…a cold Sunday morning in front of the woodstove…

The weather of the past week has made me truly thankful for the woodstove and the woodpile (the part that Gus hasn’t strewn all over the farm)

It’s been COLD! But, it’s been cold all over the country (read this from the Washington Post) And, at least we don’t have SEVEN feet (or more) of snow to contend with like they do in New York. (our thoughts and prayers go out to all the farmers…and others…up there who are trying to survive what can only be described as a weather disaster) The weather has been a big topic of conversation, though. And, had a great effect on farm work for the week.
this week Gus has been carrying big chunks of ICE

gloomy trip up the interstate

After last weekend’s record-setting cold, we had rain for Monday’s trip to the butcher to pick up the last of the lamb chop crop of ’14. At least half of our trips to the processor this year were in the rain.  While we welcome the rainy weather, it does make for some tense moments on the interstate.  But, we’re done with our lamb hauling until sometime early next summer and the freezers are fully stocked for Winter sales, and we can utter a big sigh relief.

As is always the case here on the hill, the rain was followed by WIND.  The wind was accompanied by frigid temperatures. (I don’t think it ever reached 30* on Tuesday)  Since it was too miserable to spend much time outside (other than doing chores) and most of the garden bit the dust in the weekend’s brutal cold, I got to spend the day catching up on filing and bookwork.  Hooray! 

my inbox is actually EMPTY!

My inbox is empty and the top of my desk has been sighted.  This caused me to make my annual declaration “I won’t let this stuff pile up like this again!” which led to the Boss’ annual laughing fit. (isn’t it nice I can keep him amused?)  He knows better, bookwork is low priority during the growing season.  But, now I can generate a few reports and we can see just how much we made (or didn’t make) on various ventures.  

…and I can tell you that we sold  263 boxes of Brussels sprouts (and we even ate a bunch) despite Gus!   Read about Gus and the Brussels here. There would have been more, but the freezing weather, followed by rain and MORE freezing weather left the remaining sprouts a soggy, sodden mess.  Ah, well, it was good while it lasted! And, it proves that all the little things DO add up.

beautiful Brussels sprouts

last day of grazing out front
The weather continued to dictate our actions this week. The frigid temperatures spell the end of grass growth, so it’s time to move the ewes to the Winter paddock and give them access to hay in the barn.
ewes in the winter paddock

 It gets pretty raucous and loud as the ewes acclimate to closer quarters. This also gives me the opportunity to keep an eye on them as we get closer to lambing season. 
they seem to be adapting well to the barn

The cold, short days affected hoophouse re-growth and harvest. The picking window was quite tight this week, since it took until after noon each day for the sun to warm the greens. Did you read this one?  So I spent a number of afternoons picking rather than my one big pick day on Friday.
ice crystals on the hoophouse
that means it's COLD!

eaten spinach leaves

On one of my harvest trips, I noticed something odd with the newly planted spinach. It would appear that we have an intruder in the hoophouse.  Or several.  There are a number of small tunnels in various places.  I am hoping it is just rats and NOT groundhogs.  I “hates groundhogs”!  They can devastate the hoophouse nearly overnight. Read this. 
I uncovered a tunnel and found a turnip!
this means war

I read that Irish Spring soap will deter rats. (it certainly would deter me! I have a sensitivity to perfumes and can’t stand most scents) I cut some bars and put them in the holes.  As if to defy me, the critter chewed the bar of soap and threw it out of the hole! Apparently, that’s not going to work. I really don’t want to use anything that will harm the “farm-team animals” should they eat the rats (or whatever it is)…since I’m pretty sure there is NOTHING that Gus won’t attempt to eat.
apparently the soap didn't work
or taste very good

Since the soap didn’t work, we’ve set traps and looked up mixtures on line to rid hoophouse #1 of its unwanted inhabitants.  It looks like I’ll have to put Plaster of Paris on my town list. (I’m hoping that the varmints will eat the indigestible stuff and…well…you know)   Because, I will win this battle.  You just DON’T mess with Mama’s greens! Read this one.

frozen lettuce
The last harvest of the Market season is always a little sad, both in quantity (remember the cold) and the sense that it’s the end.  However, the last week this year was slightly different.

Toughchick had an ultrasound appointment and I got invited to go along. That was majorly cool on oh, so many levels.  And it meant that I actually got to see the baby!

 I am supposed to be "chill" and mature about this, but….


Everything looked like it should and we are all looking forward to meeting our first grandbaby sometime in late March. (and, yes, the gender will be a surprise)

After that exciting trip, it was time to prep for one last Market.
despite the cold
the greens were gorgeous
 And, it was going to be COLD…again. This is the first year we have ever had TWO weeks in a row where we couldn’t set produce out because of sub-freezing temperatures.  
we got to use our amusing signs again

-TLWomack image
setting up the Market

Despite the cold, it was another amazing Market, capping off a record-setting year. After closing of the market, a group of vendors went to the Depot for what has become our “annual vendor luncheon”.  It was a nice way to end the Market.

Now we’ll concentrate on other things. 


This week will be devoted to preparing for the big family meal and spending time with our peeps and making some memories.

…because before you know it, the seed catalogs will arrive (we got the first one a couple of weeks ago) and it will be time to plan for 2015. …and it’s only about 7 more weeks to the first lambs!

Hope you’re having a  Happy Sunday!

sheep at sunrise 
Thanks for stopping by.  Come visit us again real soon.

Lessons Learned:
Modern technology is AWESOME.
The little things DO mean A LOT!
The hoophouse may never be “critter-proofed”. (but, at least I can never say I’m bored)

Here's the link to follow along with the 30 Day blogging challenge.