Peregrine Farm News Vol. 10 #7, 3/8/13

What’s been going on!

Remarkably busy week with lectures, tour groups, teaching, interviews, a conference and oh yeah, that farming thing we do out here.  Betsy had a good and tiring trip to Texas for an Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG) regional meeting and a visit with our good friends and compatriots the Arnosky’s of Texas Specialty Cut Flowers.  Betsy first met Pamela at an ASCFG meeting in the early 90’s and the two quickly realized we had been traveling the same road in two different states.  Both farms started with nothing but a dream and through perseverance and our “too dumb to quit” attitude became successful.  Now every few years we find ways to get together and commiserate (and have fun too).

I had an interesting meeting with the new dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at NC State.  A group of the Board of Advisors for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) met with him to discuss on-going strategic planning processes for both CEFS and CALS and how we can all work together.  Nice and bright guy, Dean Linton, but we got onto the topic of what the definition of sustainable agriculture is.  This used to come up all the time back in the day but less so now unless someone is trying to co-opt the concept.  It was defined by Congress back in the 1990 Farm bill when the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) of the USDA was being authorized.  Most of us working in the field now consider it the “legal” definition.  I said that not only was there this legal definition but that essentially every person and group I talked to now knew that sustainability has three tenets- environmentally sound, economically viable and socially responsible.  If most of the public now embraces this concept it will be difficult to change it now.

We did manage to get a lot of plants and seed into the ground but still have more to do just to get caught up.  Six more beds of lettuce, the first carrots, beets and broccoli raab, the first four of 10 beds (at least) of onions.  Hopefully most of the rest of the onions will go in today.  Jennie and Liz also extracted the bent Haygrove legs we need to replace so we can finally reconstruct the Big Tops that were damaged in last July’s storm.  It is good to have the staff begin work again.

Picture of the Week

3-8-13 068

A bright and windy March day, overwintered greens flanked by newly seeded crops protected by row cover to help germination

What’s going to be at the market?

Another cool start on Saturday but a fast warm up.

Maybe the last of the winter potato- Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes).  A little more Spinach.  Maybe a bit of Lacinato Kale but for sure beautiful tender and sweet Collards.  Still plenty of sweet Carrots.

More and more of the brilliant and amazing Anemones not as many this week, too much consistent cold weather.

As a reminder if there is anything that you would like for us to hold for you at market just let us know by e-mail, by the evening before, and we will be glad to put it aside for you.

Hope to see you all at the market!

Alex and Betsy

If you know folks who you think would be interested in news of the farm then please feel free to forward this to them and encourage them to sign up at the website.

It’s Grant and Application Time

Just before tax season and serious planting season is small farmer grants and market application season.  Lots of trees are felled to be able to print all the pages required for farmers to fill out.  While most people have heard of the farm subsidies programs for large conventional commodity crops farmers, few know that there are an increasing number of small grants programs intended to help small and medium-sized, sustainable and organic farmers.

The subsidy program payments are intended to underpin the large farms with a stable base price so that they are not entirely subject to the ravages of a world market they have no control over.  These grants programs for small or non-commodity crops farmers are intended to help them with trying or developing new crops or techniques to produce crops more sustainably. While small amounts of money, usually up to $10,000,  some of the best new ideas in alternative agriculture have been nurtured by these programs.

We have only ever applied for and received one tiny grant.  Way back in the early 1990’s we got a small amount of money to continue work we had been doing on raspberry variety trials and new ways to prune and manage them.  After 21 varieties and some real break throughs in improved trellising techniques what we really learned was that raspberries are not suited for production in the piedmont of North Carolina.  Sometimes research leads to an answer you don’t want, but at least it is some kind of answer.

Our only really good harvest of raspberries, on an innovative swing trellis

Since 1994 we have been participants, co-operators and collaborators on others projects.  But mostly we have been reviewers of many, many grant applications to various competitive grants programs.  We have literally read thousands  of applications!  These programs all operate in similar ways with review panels, comprised of people knowledgeable in various aspects of agriculture.  The difference is they are funded from all kinds of sources; Federal funds, state funds, non-profit groups.

Our specialty is a category usually called “Farmer Grants”, because, well, we are farmers.  We think that peer review is the best and fairest way to decide what ideas have merit or are even possible.  The granddaddy of these is the SARE programs Producer Grants .  Alex helped develop the Southern Region’s call for proposals and reviewed them for seven years.  Using that experience he has worked with the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA to build their Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund grants program.  Betsy founded the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers Research Foundation which gives out small grants for research into various aspects of cut flower production.

One of the reasons we still do these reviews is to continue to build the knowledge base needed to move agriculture forward.  Another is we get to see what the latest and most innovative ideas are in agriculture and sometimes it gives us ideas of new things that will improve our farming system.

Sometimes it’s is frustrating because the ideas are nothing new, or poorly presented.  Sometimes they are asking for money for equipment or projects that we, as good business people, just did out of our own pockets because we knew it was the direction we had to go.  We believe in funding good research or demonstration projects that will benefit the greater farming community, not just one farmers operation.  Many times we just have to bite our lips.

What ever the situation we spend many hours reading and scoring proposals every January and February.  This is followed by more hours with the whole review committee discussing the highest rated applications to narrow it down to the ones that will eventually get funded.  In the end it is a worthwhile process for all.

This years stacks of grants on the office floor

8/14/06 Vol. 3 #22

Back from the summer “break” and already we are running around like crazy so this will be a quick newsletter.  The time off was too short and we worked far too much, we did have some nice dinners out and slower afternoons but we are going to have to rethink how to actually make it even slower.  Now we are back at it trying to get caught up and into the swing.  The staff is back too and are ready to go, after a good long week off.  Today was tomato picking and turkey moving.  The rest of the week there are more fall crops to plant, peppers to pick and plenty of regular maintenance chores to take care of.  The dry spell is really getting noticeable as the cover crops are not growing as they should and some near the tree lines are really stunted.  The creek stopped running last week and we will have to start pulling water out of the upper pond soon.  Perfect weather for peppers as long as we keep them irrigated.

What’s up with the early newsletter?  Betsy and I have to leave for the airport at 4:30 in the morning to fly to Wisconsin.  Not exactly the week we would have planned to be gone again but we are receiving the Patrick Madden Award for Sustainable Agriculture and thought we might ought to be there to accept it.  We are very surprised and honored to have been even nominated for such an award and nearly speechless (well almost, you know Alex).  The award is presented by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, the USDA’s effort at helping to make agriculture more sustainable.  “This award recognizes producers who have explored ways to make farming more profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities, and have served as effective educators”.  We are always amazed when anyone recognizes us for what we consider everyday farm work and the outreach we do to anyone who has questions.  On top of it there will be an embarrassing amount of publicity about it including an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered with Melissa Block on Wednesday afternoon.  We won’t be back until Thursday late so Rachel and Will will be taking care of Wednesday market and the farm along with Joann.

Picture of the Week

It is colored bell and pepper roaster time!

3/28/08 Vol. 5 #2

Busy week, the last out of town conference trip of the season combined with typical spring chores.  Who would have thought that I would be in Kansas City twice in the span of two months?  In January I flew in to be the keynote speaker and a conference presenter at the Great Plains Vegetable Growers conference, a new group to me and I had a fine time.  In the back of my head was the knowledge that the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) was having their 20th anniversary meeting in late March, also in KC.  For us, once the market season starts, we just don’t go away, too much to do.  But the SARE program holds a special place in my heart and in the development of Peregrine Farm.  SARE is the federal government’s effort at promoting sustainable agriculture through an innovative grants program and then information dispersal.  Split into four regions of the country, I spent seven years in the 90’s as a farmer representative on the Administrative Council  of the Southern Region which reviews the grants and oversees the operation of the regional program.

Extremely unusual for a government program, it is very participatory and diverse.  The Administrative Councils have representatives from universities, industry, NGO’s, state and federal governmental organizations as well as farmers.  They discuss and debate the future of agriculture and how to direct that future towards more sustainable solutions via the carrot of grant monies.  Not only was I exposed to the newest cutting edge ideas in farming and the leading minds in sustainable ag but also how this kind of group operates.  The politics and relationships involved, how to manage large groups of diverse opinions to come to decisions, where the money goes.  In the end I was elected to the august position of council Chair (I think I left the room at the wrong time).  This took me to the National Operations meetings where I was able to work with my counterparts from the other regions.  In all it was a very formative time for us.  So late March be damned, Betsy particularly thought I should attend partly for the conference sessions but also to see old friends.  Off I flew early Tuesday and returned late last night tired but glad that I did attend infused with new ideas and renewed contacts.

Here on the farm the staff and Betsy have been making great headway.  The early tomatoes and cucumbers were planted on Tuesday, waiting until just after what we hope was the last night in the mid 20’s.  As it has become more common in recent years we are having to do variety trials to find a replacement for a longtime favorite vegetable.  This time it is the early red tomato we have relied on for great early production with great flavor.  Most tomatoes are not suited to planting this early and the ones that are, usually don’t have very good size or flavor.  Burpees Early Pick hybrid is the one we have grown for years and it has performed reliably but in today’s modern seed industry they have decided to discontinue it’s seed production, damn!  We had some seed left and are growing it alongside three new varieties in the hopes of finding good replacement.  In a few months you will get to taste the results.  Big cultivation and weeding week, looks like they got everything cultivated while I was gone.  Weed control is all about timing and the soil conditions were ideal this week.  If all goes well, that will be the last time we have to do any cultivation on the early spring crops.

Picture of the Week
Newly planted tomatoes