3/31/08

Sledding

I know this has nothing to do with farming, but is one of the best experiences in VT so I am including it. Here is a video from yesterday when Caitlin and I sledded Appalachian Gap. Also, my apprenticeship officially starts tomorrow.

video

PS This feel much faster than it looks.

3/18/08

Yankee Gold

We are planning on boiling sap again today. It is 8am and brilliantly sunny out, a perfect day to boil. A few days ago we got our first maple syrup. What happens is that one boils maple sap down for a very long time until it concentrates to become syrup. Some numbers; it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make about 1 gallon of syrup. We are doing it the old fashioned way (over a wood fire) so it took us 3 days to get syrup.

Some more detail. We collect the sap in a holding tank, then run it through a tube into the sugarhouse. From here we pour a few gallons into the boiling pan (larger back pan) where it evaporates. Once it cooks down a bunch we put the sweet (sort of sap/ not quite syrup) into the finishing pan (shiny front pan) where it boils until it becomes syrup. Pretty simple really.

I should mention there is a fire under the finishing pan that needs to be constantly stoked to keep the liquids boiling. Also, there is a chimney attached the furnace; we had not hooked it up as of this picture (in case you were wondering).

I would like to take this time to say that the sweet is delicious. We had our staff meeting out at the sugarhouse over glasses of sweet infused with ginger tea. I can't think of a better way to have a meeting.

3/12/08

Spinach!

Yesterday I learned how to plant spinach, and planted the whole green house with it. We heavily seeded the spinach because we will harvest it while still very young, so there is no need to worry about it being too crowded. After the spinach is finished we will re-till the greenhouse and plant tomatoes there.

I have been learning a good deal about farming while here, it’s great. I am reading New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman; this is a brilliant book that I highly recommend. The farm manager calls this book one of his farming bibles, which I can see why. However we do not follow all of the practices recommended by Coleman. I asked Noah about this and he said it is because when he got here there was already equipment for another method of farming; the idea you go with what you’ve got. Also, he said that he did not learn to farm that way. If he had, we would have soil blocks. If he learned to farm with a tractor, we would have one. Noah learned to farm with the tools we own. This is not a judgment of anything, just interesting to see how different people can effectively feed their community.

The confusion from the last post has been cleared up. We now have a clear definition of our roles on the farm and the time expectations for us. C and I will focus on the gardens and have a small amount of animal responsibility. We will have about 4 hrs (combined) of animal chores. Our only other responsibility is managing the chore schedule that the animal manager creates. This means if someone cannot do their animal chores on a given day they will call us and we will find substitute or do it ourselves.

The first boil, alluded to last post, has not happened yet (too cold). But we are planning on boiling on the next above freezing day.

3/8/08

Sugar and frustrating

To correct my last post, Noah thinks we put out about 130 buckets to collect sap. And this brings me to why last post I could not tell you how much food goes to each place. No one knows! The farm has no accurate form of record keeping. An example is that no one counted the number of buckets we put out.

I hope to change this. I have taken on the project of creating an accurate record-keeping system. I think this will benefit both the farm and myself immensely. This is going to be a great trial run for me of managing records on a farm. Also, these records will provide me with some basic info on farm logistics that I can then use when Caitlin and I start our farm. However, I feel the most important part of this process is creating good business habits for myself.

As far as the farm is concerned, I think that this information can help them to better organize the farm program. This brings me into my experience on the farm so far. I have enjoyed all the activities and opportunities open to me on the farm, and I have been slightly frustrated and confused. My frustration and confusion is from feeling like there is a lack of effective management on the farm. This farm is definitely not a well-oiled machine. There is a gross of inefficiencies and major lack of using all resources to their full potential. As an example, we still have not hammered out the specifics of our responsibilities. Originally, we were told we would focus on the gardens and have some animal chores (about 1 hr a day). Then we were told that we would be taking over for the animal manager and have 3 hrs a day of animal chores plus implementing a new animal management plan. Now we are told we will only have 1 hr a day of animal chores. We are each contracted for 20 hrs a week on the farm; consequently, 7 hrs a week of animal chores is much different than 21 hrs a week.

Part of the problem with this whole situation is that after we were hired the farm was restructured. It went from a farm manager with an animal caretaker to separate garden and animal managers (each vying for our time). On top of this, the hired animal manager will be leaving March 29th – June 6th. For more clarification on this, his new management-intensive grazing regime (translate as: order of magnitude more work and planning) cannot start until the snow melts around mid-April or early May. So the new animal manager will not be here to do any of the actual work required for his plan, not to mention he will not be here for the arrival of the bees he ordered. This is another example of the lack of planning and management at the farm. I feel the directors of the non-profit should not have let him take the time off or shouldn’t have let him undertake several new projects. Ultimately, this has created some confusion about our roles here. Caitlin and I are going to meet with the head honchos on Monday to clarify this: are we expected to do the job of the animal manager while he is gone?

Don’t get me wrong; this is a great experience so far. I think that I will have some real learning opportunities that would not be available if the farm ran perfectly. As I mentioned earlier, I am going to design a record keeping system. Also, I will learn about bee keeping by being in charge of caring for a few hives. One of the greatest attributes to this farm is that everyone encourages you to take on whatever projects interest you (regardless of experience) and supports you through the learning process.

In this light, I told Noah I was interested in learning more about field management (crop rotations, companion planting, cover crops), so he gave me the crop plans for 2005-2008 and asked me to evaluate them. Noah said he would love to learn better ways to manage the fields and encouraged me to do the research. This is invaluable to me, having a mentor who is willing to let me experiment with approaches other than his own.

Tomorrow we are going to do our first maple sap boil. I can’t wait! I’ll write soon and have some new pictures (I added a link to my flickr page at the top).

3/6/08

Miracle of Miracles....working internet

Today we tapped about 100 sugar maples. This was a very simple process of drilling a 7/8 inch hole about 2 inches in and then hammering in a spout. Finally, a bucket is hung on the spout to collect the maple sap. Tomorrow we are going to set up the holding tanks for the sap and then we have enough sap we will boil it into delicious Vermont gold.
Today I feel much more settled into the farm and my apprenticeship.

Since this is my first in-depth entry about the farm I will describe the place. On this farm we have about 2 acres cultivated with mixed annual crops which feed: a small school, residents of the farm, a 20 family CSA, and some donations to local food banks. I would love to tell you how much food goes to each place but I cannot (more later). Along the plant line, we have the 5-acre sugar bush mentioned before.

As far as locomotion is concerned, we have 4 Jersey bulls and 2 calves being raised for meat. Any day now we are going to be picking up 2 more calves. These calves hail from Butterworks Farm, a dairy. We get the calves for free because they are male and of no use to a dairy, hence Jerseys for meat. In about a month we will be acquiring 3 piglets to raise for meat. Lastly but not leasty, we have about 30 laying hens of 5 varieties. They have been producing between 25-30 eggs.

And let us not forget our friends form Kingdom Insecta! We are going to be welcoming between 2-4 nucs (nuclei) of bees in April sometime. These are small sized complete hives, I will write more about this closer to arrival time.

This was the basic overview, however, tomorrow I will be going into town so I can write more about my experience with the farm then.

3/4/08

On the Farm

I have now been on the farm for 4 days and it is going very well. We have a couple of week old calves, and we just planted onions in trays. I have been getting acquainted with the farm and talking to Noah, the farm manager, about exactly what I will be doing. Unfortunately, I don't have much time to write now and the internet is down at the farm. However I will make sure to write a more detailed account by this weekend.