My name is Alex Young, and I am originally from Salt Lake City, Utah. Currently I live in East Troy, Wisconsin and attend Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI). At MFAI I am participating in the New Farmer Foundation Year, an educational program that focuses on biodynamic, sustainable and organic agriculture. Through this program myself and the other students are exposed to all aspects of a sustainable farming lifestyle with a curriculum that is both experiential and theoretical. A bulk of the day to day activities take place on site at Stella Gardens where we are running a CSA under the direction of Shawn, second year farm management apprentice, and Janet, Farm and Food Education Director. Other educational opportunities include the Whole Farm Workshop Series, more than 30 classes that cover all aspects of a farming life. We also benefit from cooperative instructors, regional farmers who introduce students to their farming operations. Cooperative learning opportunities include beekeeping, an apple orchard, an urban garden program and a diverse animal based farm.
I am now in full swing of my daily farm sitting chores for the Goldstein's. This is a really great opportunity where I get to live at their house and truly experience the daily chores of caring for animals. The Goldstein's own a small farm about 10 minutes south of MFAI and on this farm they raise sheep, approximately 50, 30 or so chickens, and one Jersey cow named Kua. They also grow numerous fruit crops including pears, peaches, apricots, persimmons, hazelnuts and more. My daily responsibilities include milking the cow twice a day, bottling the milk for members to pick up, filling the water tanks for the cow, sheep and chickens, feeding and letting the chickens out of their coop, collecting and washing the eggs, and closing up the chicken coop again at night. Although this adds a lot of work to my already busy schedule, approximately an hour in the morning and an hour at night, it also provides me with an invaluable hands-on learning experience. This opportunity allows to be fully immersed in the farming lifestyle that I plan to continue for the rest of my life. I am able to realize how much work goes into raising animals whether it be for milk production, meat, wool or eggs. It also forces me to recognize how doing farm chores in the early morning, farming all day and repeating the chores at night is a tiring yet rewarding ritual. Other great upsides to this opportunity is that I have ample access to nutritious raw milk, all the eggs I can eat and the amazing companionship of animals. Another perk is witnessing the playful nature of a new litter of kittens who live right outside the back door. Please bear with me while my blog posting slow down, I will be more diligent about posts when my schedule slows down.
Monday: Today was another amazing harvest day. New produce this week includes cauliflower, cilantro, leaf fennel, and garlic scapes. Garlic scapes for anyone who has yet to try them are a great early season produce item. The are slightly fibrous and very garlic flavored so make sure you cook them. The simplest way is to treat them like green beans, stir-fry 'em, boil them in a soup or steam them. this afternoon was very hot, but we pushed through and harvested 76 pints of strawberries. These strawberries will be for our CSA members, two pints this week, and for sale in the cooler. We will also be initiating a U-pick program for strawberries where you may come to the farm and pick as many pints of strawberries as you like. The pints you pick will be $ 2.00/pint(the normal price is $2.50).
Tuesday: This morning I went to Tracey Hall's Grace Note Farm, one of our cooperative instructors. Tracey has an amazingly diverse farm with goats, layer chickens, broilers, turkeys, ducks, honey bees, and a vegetable and flower garden. Tracey makes goats milk soap and cheese, sells multi-colored eggs, and also sells chickens and turkeys for meat. Obviously there is a lot I can learn from this experience and the days I spend with her. After lunch, Janet and I hid form the heat and worked on freezing and bagging strawberries. The strawberries are in one pound bags and will be sold later this season when the fresh strawberries are gone.
Wednesday: Today was day 3 of this heat wave, but we still accomplished a lot. I worked on setting up the trellises for the tomatoes that are growing outdoors in the Children's Garden. So far so good, and next we move on to setting up the trellises in the hoop house (hopefully the we'll get a break from the heat). After weaving the trellises I jumped into helping Shawn, Mara and Kirsten finish up processing the rest of the harvest for the CSA pick-up tonight. This included washing and trimming cauliflower and broccoli, weighing out bags of sugar snap peas, and washing romaine lettuce. After the mid-day siesta I started out brewing a batch of equisetum tea which I will use on the tomatoes sometime this week. While the tea simmered I mixed up a batch of fertilizer (chicken manure and kelp) for the peppers in the hoop house. Every plant recieved a generous tablespoon of this mixture and hopefully we will reap the rewards later in the summer. I finished out the day pulling thistles in the walkways of the hoop house.
Thursday: I had today off and it was great to have a rest/recovery day.
Friday: This morning started off with a lot of work, I worked on putting in the last of the t-posts in the hoop house. After that I set up the trellises for the tomatoes in the hoop house. Other students worked on planting pickling cucumbers in the solar house. In the afternoon we, the students, attended a lecture on energy use and conservation in relation to agriculture. We were also fortunate enough to see the workings of the PV solar panels here at MFAI and see the batteries that the panels charge. Essentially the pv panels around MFAI charge two large batteries that will keep the cooler running for 36-48 hours if grid supplied power goes out.
Saturday: This morning I woke up early and prepared a comfrey and nettle tea, used as foliar feed where comfrey provides potassium and nettle supplies trace minerals. I sprayed everything in the solanaceae family: tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. After spraying I moved into harvesting strawberries, we picked around 80 pints today. I finished up the morning by mulching the walkways between tomato rows with straw.
Monday: This morning was raining and foggy but who can complain when it's a harvest day. A new crop this week is kohlrabi, which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn't been fortunate enough to try it. It is an amazingly crisp and juicy vegetable.
Wednesday: After lunch all of us students, along with Shawn and Janet, went to Ruth Zinniker's farm to press valerian flowers. The juice will be used to make the biodynamic preparation 507. Today also marked the 4th week of our CSA this season and therefore a special thanks is goes out to all of our members for supporting this great season.
Monday: Harvesting in the rain! It was a little wet and cold this morning but still exciting and rewarding. This week for our CSA we still have a lot of greens, but also a few new crops including: Scarlet Queen Turnips, Broccoli, and very colorful Easter Egg Radishes. This morning I harvested romaine lettuce and then I worked on washing and packing the produce for CSA members, cooler sales and a few wholesale orders. After lunch we went to Ruth Zinniker's farm and stuffed yarrow flowers into stag bladders for biodynamic compost preparation 502.
Tuesday: This morning I worked alongside Janet weeding the perennial beds. This was a great way to learn the names of a lot of the perennials here at Stella Gardens. I also planted marigolds, irises and thyme in the areas we removed weeds. In the afternoon I went to Ela Orchard with Bob and we worked on pruning the trees grafted earlier this spring. We also walked the orchard and scouted for pest damage. We checked traps for codling moth and plum curculiomoth, and also looked for signs of black scab on the leaves. After Bob's I used the broad fork to turnover the soil in the two remaining beds in the hoop house.
Wednesday: This afternoon was our weekly CSA pick up here at Stella Gardens. During the pick up i worked on scuffle hoeing the spinach, mustard greens and arugula beds.
Thursday: At one, I went to work with our beekeeping cooperative instructor Dan O'Leary. We inspected the hives at Stella, the North Farm and the Zinniker Farm. The bees are looking great and we have started to add supers to the hives which means one thing... Honey! After beekeeping I started to planet peppers in the hoop house, however our weekly beer brewing session cut my planting time short.
Friday: This morning I started out by attaching the plastic mulch layer to the 5320 tractor and driving the tractor to the Creek Field where we are planting pumpkins and winter squash such as butternut and acorn. I then went back to Stella and finished up planting the peppers in the hoop house, the varieties planted include: jalapeno, habanero, serrano, bulgarian, anaheim, poblano, gourmet orange, sweet chocolate, apple, lipstick and ace. In the afternoon our biodynamic lecture series, instructed by Janet, continued with a discussion of the 501 field spray (horn silica). After the lecture Shawn and I worked on harvesting rhubarb, radishes and herbs for weekend cooler sales.
Saturday: Another day of rain forced us to work inside this morning. So instead of planting and weeding, we worked on freezing excess spinach, making hominy and tortillas. After lunch we decided to try our hands at baking and made challah and sticky buns.
Monday: HarvestDay! Today we harvested chard, arugula, garlic chives, thyme, mustard greens, lettuce. hakurei turnips, rhubarb, spinach, salad mix, pac choi, and asparagus. After lunch, Janet and I worked on laying plastic mulch and drip tape in the children's garden, tomatoes go in tomorrow! Shawn and I also used pieces of old drip tape to make straps for rolling up the sides and doors of the hoop house. The day finished with the nice relaxing task of weeding and thinning carrot beds.
Tuesday: This morning we switched chores and my chore is now the cooler inventory and washing of harvest bins and seedling trays. After chores I moved on to start planting tomatoes for my project which is an experiment assessing the effects mycorhizal fungus and tomato plants. After lunch I went to Ela Orchard and helped Bob mulch under the remainder of young apple trees.
Wednesday: This morning I finished off the tomato plants. The varieties that I planted in the field include: Big Beef, San Marzano, Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine, German Johnson, Mennonite Tiffen, Ruth's, Rose De Berne, and Pineapple. I also planted a bed of eggplants, 168 plants to be exact. The varieties include: Nadia, Orient Express and Rosa Bianca. After lunch Mara and I went to beekeeping with Dan O'Leary.
Thursday: In the morning I worked on shaping a bed in the Children's Garden for the next succession on swiss chard. I also roto-tilled the rest of Spin 3 to prepare the beds for my next succession of arugula and the coming planting of beans.
Friday: Today we worked on a harvest to stock the walk in cooler for the weekend and fill some orders We harvested asparagus, spinach, pac choi, rhubarb, green butter head lettuce, . I then moved onto shaping and planting a bed of arugula. I finished the morning by measuring and marking the beds in the hoop house. After lunch all of the students along with Shawn went on a tour of Prairie Dock Farm in Jefferson County.
Saturday: This morning we prepared the raised beds in the hoop house by shaping the beds, laying drip tape and plastic mulch. Next we planted three beds of tomatoes including: Big Beef, Estiva, Martin, Red Pear, Sun Gold, Hillbilly, Striped Roman, Garden Peach, Black Seaman, and Black Plum .