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Friday, May 29, 2009
We'll have a few new products this week, particularly garlic scapes. These are a fantastic side effect of growing hardneck garlic; about a month before the bulbs fully form, the plants send up a narrow seed stalk. If you harvest it at just the right time, it produces a long, tubular stem with a wonderful fresh garlic flavor that is simply unmatched by any other product. Our first batch of these are ready and will be available; I strongly urge readers to try them.
Peas are really close, and it will be a last-minute decision whether we'll have them for sale this week. A sunny day Friday may push them fast enough to be ready. Probably a few pints of the earliest ones, with more coming on strong.
We'll also have one more batch of our nice saute mix from last week, including baby kale, baby tat soi, pea shoots, beet greens, and so on.
Finally, we'll have the last round of radish harvest until fall. If you've enjoyed our young heirloom mixes, this is the last chance to get them.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
We had a great meal recently which really highlighted both the taste of truly fresh fish and all the seasonal items we have to complement it right now. We brought home six bluegills from Lick Creek Conservation Area, a nice, quiet, wooded impoundment just a few miles away. After cleaning these up, I preheated the oven to 450 while melting some butter with chopped tarragon and chives. When the oven was ready, I put a bit of oil in two glass baking dishes, arranged the fish, sprinkled with salt, and drizzled on the butter mixture. I then baked the fish for about 9 minutes until they were flaky but still moist.
Served on a bed of fresh lettuce with the butter/herb sauce drizzled on, these were fantastic (if bony). The rest of the meal (not pictured) featured a salad of our fresh greens and radishes and fresh-made bread with our strawberry jam. This was a really easy meal to do with the fresh chives, tarragon, lettuce, and radishes on hand, all of which we sell at the market. If you're not into fishing, it would be a great way to serve Troutdale's fresh spring-raised trout or any other fish. Come by the stand on Saturday and try it yourself!
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Above is a basic view through the shed back into the market garden. Produce comes in from the east, often harvested directly into tubs of cold water (in the case of lettuce, greens, radishes, and so on). We can then wash and sort items on the steel table in foreground (purchased for a song at a restaurant auction) before packing into lidded containers that are stored at proper temperature in old refrigerators until market.
Above is part of last week's radish harvest in progress. I've washed and sorted all six varieties, and am about to start building the diverse bundles that customers have found very attractive and interesting. Doing this kind of work outdoors yet under shade and protection is just fantastic. When the shed is truly finished, we'll have a series of stations like this, along with a great deal of shelving and storage space for produce, tools, and more. Having this close workspace also improves the quality of the produce, as we can get it chilled, washed, and packed that much faster, thus ensuring the long shelf life that folks have repeatedly told us our produce provides. Good stuff all around. Plus, made from all on-farm cedar lumber, it just looks danged pretty.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
We're battling a frustrating fungus on our tomato and pepper starts, which resembles the common damping-off disease but is far more persistant and less responsive to normal measures. We resorted to direct-seeding some tomatoes recently just to make sure we had a backup if too many starts die. But we hope to have many of the farther beds in the photo above full of tomatoes and peppers by mid-late summer.
Monday, May 25, 2009
In our case, we used a rotary plow, which looks like a giant drill bit. As the BCS drives forward, the rotary plow chews the soil and throws it to one side, effectively mounding it up. It works very well for trenching and/or building raised beds, which is what we used it for. By marking out the permanent bed locations, and driving the BCS in circles around that location, we continually dug out a shallow lowered aisle and built a nice raised bed. Then we put on a regular tiller and tilled the top of the bed smooth in one or two passes to make sure we'd killed and chopped up the thick fescue and other growth remaining from the pasture.
A rough result of this work is shown above. The aisles are spaced to the wheelbase of our tractor, so that we can drive over them in the future if needed and never actually compress the growing soil. As this photo was being taken, we were spreading a light cover of wood ash from our stove to buffer the pH, then working the beds into their final configuration with a hoe. These will be planted in a wide variety of summer items like beans, edamame, okra, corn, sorghum, amaranth, sunflowers, and more.
The lowest and most virgin blocks of beds are being planted in a cover crop of buckwheat and clover this year. These crops improve the soil while helping to choke out remaining weeds. Above, you see the lowest bed blocks covered in a light mulch of straw following cover crop seeding; our intention is that they grow a thick canopy of those crops that will be maintained throughout the summer before being replaced with an equally beneficial winter crop of oats and/or rye. Then we'll be in better shape to for vegetable planting next spring.
We're very excited about the prospects for this field of permanent beds. We're already seeing the benefits of a similar approach in our market garden, where the weed load is noticeably down compared to 2007 and 2008 and planting/management is far more weather-independent than on a tractor-reliant field. And keeping the permanent beds means we're only working on the soil that actually grows food, while maintaining permanent aisles that provide habitat for beneficial fauna such as toads, snakes, and good insects. This year will be a good test case for managing this field, and in 2010 we'll really dive into using it fully.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
I've heard several market vendors comment that though crowds are up this year, purchasing seems a bit down. May be the combined effect of economic concerns and lots of new folks coming to the market for the first time, testing the waters but not committed shoppers yet. I feel like I've seen a lot of "window shoppers" passing through, but leaving without much product, which I can judge because I'm right at the main entrance. It makes sense; farmers markets and local foods are really being trumpeted by just about every media source now, but that doesn't instantly translate to the somewhat different shopping, cooking, and eating habits that relate to significant consumption of local foods in a given household.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
As a teaser, she gave us the link to her photo blog, which included this very nicely done multimedia slideshow/montage of images, interviews, and sounds from the farm. In my opinion, this is by far the best media product we've seen about what we do, in our many interactions with local journalism. She's really captured things nicely and the slideshow flows very effectively. Thanks, Cat!.
The show is embedded below, or you can visit her blog for a larger version.
Monday, May 11, 2009
I particularly like that last one. They love climbing on just about anything, and are getting noticeably heavier. They're also starting to nibble on real food, meaning we can start to draw milk off Garlic. They were castrated and dehorned recently, so they've had a rough few days of walking funny, but are rapidly getting back to normal.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Sales taxes are different in most cities and counties in Missouri, and also differ depending on product. For example, food is taxed at a different rate than regular items, and sales to restaurants or groceries are not taxed at all. This is annoying for any business, but is especially problematic for market farms, who travel to different locations to sell their items and don’t have a nice centralized cash register system that can track these things. For example, here are the relevant tax rates for us:
Items sold on-farm, in unincorporated Boone County:
food (produce, eggs, etc.): 2.55%
non-food (wood, flowers, blown eggs, gourds): 5.55%
to chefs (for use in restaurant): no tax
Items sold at Columbia Farmers Market, in Columbia city limits
to chefs: no tax
to EBT (food stamp) customers: no tax
Items sold at Hallsville Farmers Market, in Hallsville city limits
to chefs: no tax
So depending on where we make a sale of farm products, and what those products are, we might have to collect no tax, 2.55%, 3.55%, 4.55%, 5.55%, 6.55%, or 7.55%. To make matters worse, to qualify for the lower food tax rate, we have to pre-register all our sales locations with the Department of Revenue (DOR). This is because the system is set up for independent static businesses like brick-and-mortar franchises; DOR has no concept of a sales model in which the product is produced in one location but sold at many. So if I were to decide in the middle of the season to try out the Boonville, Moberly, or Ashland farmers markets, I would technically have to charge the full (non-food) rate at those locations because DOR hadn’t approved my new “location”. Or so I’m told by DOR staff.
In addition, most market farms aren’t set up to charge tax on top of their sales. Without a powered cash register capable of being programmed for different tax rates, it isn’t practical to add tax to purchases at the point of sale, especially when some sales combine items of different tax rates (purchasing produce along with a gourd, for example). It would take way too long in a busy marketplace and be a headache for everyone. Thus, most farmers have to “include” sales tax in their price, charging a nice round price that’s easier for everyone, then tracking their sales numbers and remitting the appropriate tax on whatever basis (monthly, quarterly, annually) the state requires based on their income.
So our market record sheets have a complicated table of tax rates in which we have to break down what kinds of products were sold where and to whom, so we can back out the appropriate tax bill to pay quarterly. Sometimes the work involved isn’t worth the effort of selling the product, if you consider the time it takes us to do this and/or the expense of an accountant.
This kind of system is unfortunate in so many ways. It creates a ridiculous burden on small businesses like market farms. This isn’t even something you can really pass off on an accountant, because you’d have to do most of the record-keeping in the first place so the accountant would know what to do. It doesn’t reflect the reality of this kind of business. It creates a misperception of price as compared to other sources like grocery stores, where tax is added at the register and thus the posted price in the produce aisle looks smaller. It creates a strong incentive to cheat or otherwise misuse the system; I suspect (without solid evidence) that many market farmers or roadside stands don’t go to all the trouble to break out their sales like this, just reporting sales based on farm location. That’s what we did at first until we realized how we were supposed to do it, and then filed an amended return with DOR. The resulting confusion on their end cost the state more in employee billable hours and postage costs than the extra tax we ended up paying just to be honest and ethical.
I believe pretty strongly that an unenforceable law, or a law which creates a strong incentive to break it, is at best counterproductive and at worst unethical. What systems like this do is punish the honest and reward the lazy/dishonest. Folks like us who spend hours attempting to learn the proper tax code in order to do the right thing are punished by paying the full amount of taxes, while those who throw up their hands or don’t bother to find out get away with far less payment, headaches, and time lost. And the state is likely cheated out of a fair bit of income, because the system for collecting it is so complicated and unenforceable that people don’t bother.
There are better ways to do handle such things, and it’s unfortunate that the repercussions of our current system fall most heavily on those who are most honest and ethical.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The problem as I see it, is that for incremental charges to work, they have to be percieved as unavoidable. One restaurant that charges for bread may lose offended customers to all the others that don't. One grocery store that charges for bags, one market stand, etc. If everyone at a market charged equally for bags, perhaps the effect would take place. But if we just started it, chances are we'd annoy or offend customers who might go elsewhere, even if that extra nickel was more than worth the access to our produce.
Still, it's a great quick look at the psychology of consumerism, and what kind of factors market farmers have to keep in mind as they compete for customers in a wide-open marketplace.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
First, however, I had to pour the foundation footings, which took quite a while to complete due to weather and other work requirements. We laid out the site and drilled the nine foundation holes with our auger, then poured concrete footings with rebar in place. We then filled the holes to ground level and inserted anchor bolts, to which posts could be nailed using appropriate hardware. It kept raining or freezing as I was trying to get this done, which delayed the project many weeks. Finally the foundations were ready.
Next, we raised the nine posts and braced them in place before beginning to install the framing and rafters for the second floor. As of the first weekend in May, this is where the structure stands:
It's ready for upper rafters and then the roofing panels. Once the roof is on, we can begin to use it for storage and packing even before I get the walls on. We just can't wait to get this done; our production this year is already overwhelming the kitchen and this shed will be far cleaner, more efficient, and just all-around better. My original goal for completion was end of April, and I now expect to have it done by mid-May. Not too far off, and not a minute too soon.
Monday, May 4, 2009
While this young snapping turtle showed up in a large puddle in the goat paddock:
We carefully removed him to our pond, then counted the chickens. Everyone's happy.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
We needed something near the market garden and the field road, through which all produce could pass to be washed, sorted, prepared, and packed, with enough space for temporary storage. When all harvesting was done (or as needed) we could then transport items to our coolers in the house. The other main purpose of this structure was storage; right now most of our tools, supplies, hoses, and so on have to live in the house, which is a pain and means we're constantly running up and down the hill when we need something. So we needed a structure that had useful all-weather storage as well.
Above you see the rough floor plan for the shed. The southern (bottom) half is used for washing, sorting, and packing produce. Items come in either from the market garden (to right) or via vehicle from the field (to left). They are handled along the 16' counters along the south/bottom wall, which include multiple sinks. Once produce is clean and sorted, it is packed into appropriate containers and stored on the shelving in the NW (upper left) quadrant of the shed until it can be transported en masse to coolers in the house or stored in the truck for market delivery. The NE quadrant is reserved for tool/wheelbarrow/equipment storage, and also opens into the market garden for easy access. The partial second floor of the shed can be used for storing bulky items like irrigation hose.
The design incorporates as much natural light as possible, using clear roofing panels integrated into an otherwise metal roof to shed light on the washing space, and a set of windows along the ridgeline to allow light into the back of the shed. Several large doors also allow light in. This is important as I don't intend to run power to this. Water will come from our nearby hydrant. The shed will tie into our garden fence so that we can move within the shed and garden without opening gates; loading/unloading from vehicles happens at the western door to the washing area.
That's the design; in the next few posts I'll cover the construction, which is ongoing.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Goose eggs are definitely done for the year. One goose has starting sitting on her nest and defending it, and the other is tailing off in her laying. We don't know if the former will actually hatch anything, as sources tell us first-year ganders are often not "fully loaded" and the eggs may not be fertile. But we're happy to let her try. A batch of goslings would mean more eggs next year and some nice meat geese this fall. Not to mention upping the cute quotient around here.
Those who've been to the market will notice that it's been booming. The normal vendor slots were about full last week, and our customer counts are hitting levels seen in midsummer a few years ago. Many of us are a bit nervous about this summer and what a zoo it's going to be. Hopefully it helps make the case that the market has really outgrown its current situation.