Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Agripenuers" Step in to Help Local Farmers

At an meeting at the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office last week the topic of conversation was how to grow a community food system. A novel idea was presented by two self-described “agripenuers” Agro-Depot and the Virginia Brewing Company:


A key problem for local farmers is how to bring their product to market. Successful area farms that grow organic vegetables or grass fed livestock sell it by subscription or by going to the farmers market every weekend. But how is the farmer to work the farm and attend the farmers market too? This is where a middle man—or in this case middle women--like Agro-Depot can help.

Sarah Roussos retired early from another career but she has not slowed down. On the contrary this woman who describes herself as having lots of “spit and vinegar” got fired up with when someone told her “real farmers never do business with business”. After having sold herbs and goats from her farm she decided to jump right into the problem of how does a farm market to the end user. So she started FAARM last year which she has renamed “Agro-Depot”. She says, “We took on farmers in Loudoun county and other areas who did want to do business with businesses.”

She says the problem with selling produce is one of perception. Restaurant customers would tell her, “I want pretty tomatoes and they have to be here in December.” Tomatoes of course do not grow in Virginia in December. She says, “We realized very quickly there was a problem. ”

Her partner is Debbie Heimburger owner of the Hill High Country Store in Round Hill which has been in business since 1946. While there is a certain nostalgia to country stores Debbie says she seems them as an opportunity for commerce not to be written off as artifacts. She says, “As we travel we always make a trek to see country stores and they have fallen by the way side.” She points out that these small stores are thriving in Napa and Sonoma so she sees potential to reinvigorate them here in Virginia by making them an outlet for the local farmer.

But the problem with selling local grown produce at a country store is one of supply. Debbie says, “The hobby farmers only generate enough produce to sell at the market at a very high price. If you don’t have the product there you are not going to get the traffic.” So Sarah and Debbie have teamed together and have more than 200 farmers providing customers to their retail outlets three of which are up and running today.

Kenner Love of the Rappahannock County Cooperative Extension service asked what size farms is Agro-Tech working with. “Is it a 50 acre farm or a 5 acre farm?” Kenner is a practical minded person and he is looking for someone who wants to buy all these peaches that are just now getting ripe out in the county. He says the farmers do not even get $1 per pound for these. Kenner says, “We have a lot of peaches coming is now in Rappahannock county. We would love to sell those peaches for $1 a pound off the farm. We don’t do that. We are not close to do that. These guys are retailing for a far lower price. How can you help those guys elevate their price? They have a set price but the price is not high enough.”

Sarah says the farms they work with are for the most part less than 10 acres. She says, “We have Stoney Brook Farm, Luke Wiseman. He has an 11 acre total organic farm. He is one of our wonderful sources. Endless Summer harvest in Loudoun county. They have a hydroponic operation and green house. Our interest is in working with farmers who can produce a little longer [i.e. use hoop houses and so forth to extend the season].” Debbie says they also have some larger farms Ray Showalter in rural Harrisonburg who was growing curly lettuce which he could not sell to rural peoples there. But in Loudon County at Round Hill store customers obviously understand that.

Molly Harris owner of Edible Garden restaurant in Richmond was brimming with enthusiasm. She spoke up to say, “We want to be your first restaurant client and your greatest public advocate and endorser.” She says, “Our goal in our restaurant is the benefit of eating seasonally. In September she will tell people, “Sorry no more peaches but try our apply crisp. No I am sorry we don’t have a fresh tomatoes in our restaurant and we won’t until July.”.She explains, “It’s undoing the way they have been trained.”

Sarah’s table where she made her presentation was littered with brochures which read in part: “the producer is NEVER [their boldface added for emphasis] asked to sell his product at WHOLESALE pricing. Rather we would allow the producer to SET HIS OWN PRICING at a ‘fair and realistic’ level which would enhance interest and repeat sales of the product.”

Their web site says, “The goals …. are to create venues where local farmers can connect directly with local consumers, to build community in an urban setting, and to provide public education on regional farming, gardening and food preparation.”

Sarah wraps up imploring, “If you a farmer come to us and say I am a farmer I would like to be in this program. If you are a restaurant in our vicinity we bring it to you.”


In a crowd sometimes it’s the quiet ones who are the most interesting. So it was with Jim Justice president of the Virginia brewing company wearing jeans and alligator skin boots. He sat in the back of the room and did not say anything at first. But then he marched up the dais to make his presentation. His enthusiasm was infectious.

Jim says he is now the current occupant of a 12 acre former apple packing plant in Winchester that no one else wanted. The landlord basically said he could move in for free. Now the problem is ,“How do I pay for this monster”. His idea is to bring together beer drinkers, music lovers, local farmers, and shoppers into one venue.

He explained that he bought the bankrupt facility Zeropak which was one of three apple processing complexes in Winchester. He says, “It sat empty for 12 years. We have railroad tracks. I have the tallest building in Winchester. It’s 6 stories.”

One problem mentioned by growers is there is a need for large cold storage facilities. “That’s the one thing I have is massive amount of storage space.” If you have ever wondered how California can skip fresh grapes across the country for so many months of the year the answer is they have cold storage buildings that are several acres in size. “Instead of lasting 3 weeks they last 9 months. Some of our refrigerators have these machines to take the air out of the room.”

Jim is trying to build a farmers market around his brewery to draw in the crowds. He says, “The model I came up with is beer + music = money.” He says, “In my travels in the world the funnest [sic] farmers markets are a festival and I am all about the festival. I have refrigeration space and rail card access. The idea next is to bring the farmers market in.“

So Jim has brought in Sarah and Debbie of Agro-Depot. Sarah tells everyone that she got goose bumps talking about the peanut farmer who sold hundreds of dollars there at Zero-Pak the first day they were open. The farmers had planted and harvested the peanuts himself by hand. That farmer and others will profit from this growing venture.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Culpeper Madison Rappahannock Farm Fair Show

On Monday night the Culpeper Rappahannock Madison Farm Fair ended on a bit of an ironic note. The children here at the fair are in 4-H clubs. The 4-H has taught them responsibility for they have cared for the animals they have brought here today, milked them, fed them, purchased food for them, vaccinated and dewormed them and now it is time to sell them to the slaughterhouse. For these children this is not a sad parting. Rather that livestock are grown for food is one of the life lessons taught to these youngsters in this program. The 4-H prizes handed out for best of show and other competitions are for the beefiest beef, the hog with the fattest haunches, the goat that will yield the most milk. This is not beauty show but a lesson in nature grounded in practicality.

Carlson Farm

The auction house here is surrounded by corrals which is where we find Michelle Carson from Rixleyville. She is here with her homeschooled children Rachel, 18; Grace, 9; Jamie, 20, and Michael, 14. Her sister Meghan from Stafford is also here with her 13 year old daughter Jillian. They came to the fair the night before to set up and have come early to the fair at 6:00 AM today in time for the Dairy Goat Show. The women are wearing green 4-H shirts.

Of her goats she says, “The dairy goats we milk and use for our own consumption. We makes goats, cheese, soap. We sell meat goats to the fair and private buyers. There is a pretty growing market for that.” Asked what kind of goats she has she says, “We have Nubians and Alpines.”

Goats are divided into two types: dairy and meat goats. The difference is the dairy goats like the Nubians and the Alpines produce far more milk than it needs. You couldn’t milk a meat goat like a Boer or Spanish goat because there would not be enough milk left over for their offspring. Michelle’s goats produce milk pretty much year round. Like a wet nurse they will continue to lactate as long as they are milked. She says, “You can dry them up or continue to milk about a month before they kid.” (To “kid” means to give birth in goat parlance.)

Michelle says, “We have 9 [goats] at our house. You have to milk them in the morning and at night.” This is a 1 ½ hour process every day, twice per day.

At the dairy goat show the children parade their goats in a circle while a woman wearing a bonnet pokes the animals with her finger. This judge, Becky Dilella, hails from Dixie Does farm in Southwest Virginia. With her bonnet and simple farm dress she looks like one of the religious from Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College. After the show she is headed off with her own goats to a national competition in Kentucky.

Meadowdean Farm

At the booth next to Michelle another family is grooming their goats getting ready for the competition to be held at 9:00 o’clock that morning. The goats have been given a close hair cut and the children are all wearing white.

University student Kaitlin Flathers of Meadowdean Farm is placing trophies on a table in the auction barn. She says she is, “A graduate of this having grown up and done this myself.” She says the awards are paid for by the Culpeper Rappahannock Madison fair through tractor pull ticket sales and advertising sold in the Culpeper, Madison, and Rappahannock Farm Show newspaper published by the Culpeper Times. Her little brother is walking around with black cowboy boots, a black hat, and a red t-shirt that stretches to his knees. They have 20 goats on their 192 acre farm. At their booth one child has written a poem in big letters across from the sign that says “Top 10 reasons to own a goat”. Kate explains that the family actually forgot the poster with the 10 top reasons to own a goat so one is left wonder what those 10 reasons could be. Their poem on goat rearing offers some clues:

Their milk is supreme,

And so is their ice cream.

Say good by to those weeds,

But hello to great cheese.

Chevon is quite fine,

On which to dine.

Jim Massie

At the other end of the series of connected paddocks teenage girls are showing dairy cattle. One magnificent 1,300 pound animal is being led into position by another magnificent animal: a rather tall and strong teenage girl. Its sort of comical to recall the notion that while certain dog owners are said to look like their dogs this corn fed female looks something like her Holstein heifer. Both are equally attractive.

In the next paddock are row after row of sleeping hogs. Every single hog is sleeping so deeply that they appear dead. But dead they are not for Jim Massie reaches into the one of the bins here and loudly slaps one of the hairless pigs with a flat hand. The hog squeals having been woken up rudely.

Jim Massie is here from the Rappahannock County Livestock club. The name “Massie” is an old one in Rappahannock. Jim’s first cousin is Dr. Tom Massie who runs the Rosewood large animal veterinary.

He says, “Our club is small. We used to have a very large club. Now we have 6 at the peak we had 15 or 16. Its increasingly harder to compete for children’s time.”

Asked about his Rappahannock farm he says, “We have a cow calf operation.” He explains that the cows that he raises in winter they keep until the spring but rising costs are a concern. “With the increased cost of production and the grain costs which have skyrocketed I am going to be looking in the fall at selling them rather than carrying them over and selling the grain to the granaries. We sell calves born in the fall sell in the fall of the following year. The spring calves born this year they’ll go possible in 2009.”

Jim sells his cattle either through direct sales and the feeder cattle sales like the Fauquier Feeder Cattle Association auction in Marshall. He raises feeder cattle to 600 or 700 pounds before they are shipped off to confined feeding operations where they are fed corn to rapidly put on an additional 500 to 600 pounds before they are slaughtered. Ask why he does not finish off the cattle himself he explains that he does not farm enough corn for that.

Returning to the 4-H club he explains that the pigs here are called “swine”. He says, “The majority of the kids purchase their feeder pigs in march. Then become “shote” [75-150 lbs]. Then they become “hogs”. They will have them a little more than 100 days. They will take care of them before they bring then to the fair.”

Lileemzo Farm

When you walk into the paddock where the Leppke family is tending their goats the first thing you notice is how friendly these animals are. They are not flighty like some Spanish meat goats or goats that have been raised on vast open pastures. These hand-raised dairy goats long for attention and press any visitor to pet them.

Shari is the matron of this family of Linsday, 19; Levi, 16; Emma, 13; and Zoe, 11 the first letters of whose names collectivity spell Li-Le-Em-Zo or “Leleemzo” which is the name of their 25 acre farm in Fauquier County in Midland, Virginia. Their they have 20 dairy and meat goats, donkeys, and chickens. The family belongs to the Udderly Best Dairy and Meat Goat Club located in Culpeper.

Lindsay is a bright eyed young woman who speaks with the confidence of youth. She explains that at the goat show today, “There are 9 families [in their club] and 8 of them are here.” Asked what today’s judge will be looking for she says that in a dairy goat the judge is looking for an animal that can produce with a good strong back and good udder attachment. In other words those teats cannot be just handsome—they must be functional. This is no beauty show. Accolades go to the practical animals not necessarily the most ascetically pleasing.

Her mother Shari says of her club, “We have 2 families with large couple hundred acre farms.” In other words 2 of the families actually work at farming and the others aspire to work at farming or are hobby farmers. Shari continues, “We lived in Sterling. We wanted a different life for our kids. We both grew up on farms. We moved here and we stated home schooling.” She says the 4-H club gives them, “ The confidence, the responsibility, the integrity through having animals and showing them.” Each child has their own charge account at the farmers cooperative. They keep track of expense and income.” So the 4-H teaches fiscal responsibility as well.

Levi is the sole male in this bevy of females. Asked who he tends his goats he is rather shy. But when pressed he says that he has learned to give the goats vaccinations himself and to deworm them. The goat he has brought to show today is called “Nemo”. The children giggle when then say the word of this Disney character. Levi says he trims his goats hooves and rotates them to different paddocks during the week.

His sister Emma has a Nubian goat a type which is bred for dairy. The one she has today is called “Haleiwa” a female born April 24, 20004. Shari says this goat produces 2 to 3 kids every year and since they are registered the females are sold for $250 apiece through the American Dairy Association. The males are less fortunate go for less money fetching something like $75 at the auction. Such is man’s plight.

Like so many hobby farmers Shari wasp up by explaining that her husband is a commuter. “My husband works in Reston. That’s what pays the bill. He’d love to be a farmer.”

The Auction

At the last night of this 5 day event all of the animals here are sold at auction. Cattle go first followed by lamb, goats, and then swine. The best of show dairy cow is paraded around the ring by its handler. The auction begins and the animal sells for $5 per pound. When the lamb are brought in a young boy of maybe 9 years old skids across the floor kicking up dust as he is unable to hang onto the spry creature.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Growing Vegetables at Sunnyside Farms

The former owner of Sunnyside Farms is no doubt more famous—haven had his agricultural exploits written up in The Washington Post and The New York Times. But devoted gardeners and those who have an interest in organic food will perhaps be more interested to talk with Nivardo Loya who is in charge of vegetable production at Sunnyside Farms in Rappahannock County. He is the guy who actually does the day-to-day work to grow the vegetables here.

Nivardo came to Sunnyside Farms eight years ago from Chihuahua, Mexico because he had a cousin working here. His wife Lorena might be the only platinum blond from that rural countryside of mestizo peoples. Nivardo and his wife live with their two children Rocio, a student at UVA; and Diana, a 7th grader; and Lorena’s brother in a house located right next to a dozen or so greenhouses. Outside 2 orphaned kittens roll about and play in the yard. In one corner of the yard Nivardo is building a fence to try to keep his remaining 2 chickens alive---the other 40 that he had were eaten by the foxes.

To get to Sunnyside from the town of Little Washington, Virginia turn left on Harris Hollow road. Go a few miles then turn right onto Sunnyside Orchard Lane crossing a bridge that warns heavy trucks “23 tons only”. On this early morning on the left-hand side fog hangs over the nearby mountains. Stop at the first house on the left to ask directions and two men straight out of Deliverance are working without shirts on a broken down car in the front yard. One of them has a huge scar down his stomach. They point the way to the farm house and greenhouses behind the creosote treated fence.

A lot of people in Rappahannock County know about Sunnyside farms for its former owner David Cole was an executive at American On-line who put a lot of money into making his farm a showplace for organic farming . He bought the 425 acre farm to great fanfare in 1996 and sold it to the great disappointment of locals in 2006. The Washington Post characterized the slow retreat of Sunnyside from Rappahannock when they wrote in June of that year, “Speculation concerning the future and possible sale of Sunnyside has increased over the past year as shoppers noticed the dwindling stock at Sunnyside Farms Market on Washington's Gay Street and far fewer produce choices at the FarmFresh Dupont Circle farmers market where Sunnyside is a founding member.”

But all of this talk of business does not interest Nivardo. His interest is strictly agriculture. Standing in one of the dozen or so greenhouses where is it almost too hot to breath Nivardo explains how he farms tomatoes when by definition an “organic” farm is not allowed to use chemical pesticides. Nivardo explains that there are two problems with tomatoes---a virus and a fungus that turn the leaves brown. So to avoid that he plants tomatoes in two different green houses in two different soils. If one patch dies the other should survive. And then he does not replant tomatoes (nor eggplants nor peppers since they are of the same family) in the same soil for 4 years. And to make sure that the fruit gets ripe he pops suckers off the plants, which are shoots which grown yet another shoot.

He also grows eggplants. (Nivardo does not know the Spanish word for “Eggplant” and neither do I so we just call it “Eggplant”.) These are planted in buckets whose bottom has been knocked out. The idea is to raise the plant up a little in the raised beds and give the roots some loose soil into which they can grow. As anyone who has planted eggplants knows their delicate leaves are attacked by leaf hoppers. To stop that Nivardo sprays agricultural soap. And to give them a trellis upon which to grow he runs a string to the top of the greenhouse.

While there are 12 people working at Sunnyside farms Nivardo tends the greenhouse for the most part by himself pulling weeds by hand. The other employees and interns work in the orchard or travel to the farmers markets. Of course when it is raining they help here in the only place where it is not raining.

Nivardo shows off his Super Star onions. These are enormous and they are sweet too like Vidalia. He says last year they sold them for $1.50 but people were willing to pay even more. So this year they raised the price to $3.00 apiece and they are selling fast. The onions are planted so close together that they seemingly have crowded out any possible weeds. They are started indoors from seeds which are planted 3 inches apart. After 7 weeks they are moved to the greenhouse. Asked when he knows to move the onion to the greenhouse he says, “When they are ready I plant them.” meaning he does not need to consult any book.

Each of the greenhouses here is filled with different produce and there are melons and asparagus planted in the fields. Nivardo says he won’t grow any more lettuce this year because in the heat of summer it gets too bitter. Its the same story for cilantro which he says he won’t plant anymore period because it bolts too rapidly and goes to seed.

There is lots of kale planted here although Nivardo admits it tastes better when the whether is cool. Beets are planted at various stages of maturity. There are cut flowers, cucumbers, French radishes and much more that is sold to 30 families who have signed up for the subscription program and to customers at the DuPont Circles Farmers market.

The vegetables grown indoors at Sunnyside are grown in raised beds. Nivardo does not pay too much attention to soil tests but instead prefers to look at the vitality of the plant as a gauge of whether it is growing well or not. He puts down lime to control the PH and adds fish fertilizer and lots of compost but other than that he does not pay much attention to trace elements like boron.

One of the more unique aspects of the greenhouses here is they grow produce year round. Rather than spending thousands of dollars to heat the space inside the greenhouse---heat that would for the most part escape from these walls insulated with only plastic---Sunnyside instead prefers to heat the soil. Outside the greenhouses is a wood and propane fired boiler that pumps hot water into hoses planted throughout the greenhouse soil. Nivardo explains that when the temperature of the air drops below 50 degrees the heating system comes on. The soil temperature is kept warm and Nivardo covers the plants with an agricultural cloth. He says it is brutal work keeping the fire going all the time. He rises at 3 AM every day and during the night to stoke the furnace.

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Castleton Lakes Vineyards: The Soil Report

After 4 years of planting my own grapes I took a part-time job taking care of a 2 acre vineyard only 4 miles from my house--so this was two years ago. Someone else had planted it and abandoned it so it was scarcely alive when I went into the vineyard with a gang of Mexicans to hoe out the vines and chop the grass back to civility. The $100K irrigation system was not working and the ground was hard from drought. Four year old vines there were only a few inches tall if they were alive at all.

The vineyard was surrounded by an invisible fence dog retention fence powered by a solar electric charger but the dogs were long gone. There was a building where I could store equipment and the trellis system was complete. The owner, Mr. Jacquemin, had a DR lawnmower which is what I used to cut the grass.

There were two blocks of grapes there: 1.3 acres of viognier and 0.3 acres of cabernet franc. Mr. Jacquemin would not did not want to replant the viognier the first year I took it over believing because of his bad experience that viognier vines should not grow on his farm this despite the fact that the same grape flourished on my farm. So I did what he said and focused on the 330 cabernet franc vines 80% of which died that winter. In the spring I bought 200 cabernet franc vines from a local winery which I planted in June.

For me this vineyard was an excellent place where I could put into practice the lessons of organic soil science that I had learned. I would not tend these vines purely organically---there is no reason to do that unless you are some kind of nutty ideologue—but I wanted to mineralize the soils per the instructions of Gary Zimmer.

So I followed his advice and started the fertilizer program with lime and rock phosphate. The soils of the vineyard were 5.1 and 5.4 PH which is 10 times as acidic as the vegetable garden on my farm at that time. So in this environment it would have been best to put down rock phosphate first and then limestone later for acidic soils break help break down the phosphates from the rock phosphate. I wanted that soil to be alive, teeming with earthworms, friable, and have a good tilth. This would take some time as the soils here were too high in potassium, deficient in magnesium, and with roughly the same citation exchange capacity as sand.

I put my ideas down on paper in a letter to Mr. Jacquemin:

Looking at your soil report, the limiting factors in your vineyard are calcium (Ca), PH, phosphorous (P), and trace elements. Your vineyard soils at 5.1 and 5.4 PH are more than 10 times as acidic as they should be and at least 10 times as acidic as my vegetable garden. The calcium level in your vineyard should twice what it is. And phosphorous more than doubled. Not to worry because we have a plan. To sweeten the soil we add lime (calcium carbonate). PH is a measure of the number of hydrogen ions in the soil. When you mix calcium carbonate into the soil it reacts with the hydrogen to produce carbon dioxide gas, water, and in the process you lose hydrogen ions while at the same time gaining valuable calcium. As hydrogen disappears the soil becomes more alkaline, the PH increases, the soil is said to become "sweeter". This allows the plant to take up from its roots minerals and trace elements which it otherwise could not do because the acidic soil interferes with this process becoming a limiting factor no more.

Rock phosphate is part of your program. This is a naturally mined source of phosphorous. Phosphorous is needed for healthy roots and vines and for this reason I have already applied rock phosphate to the cabernet franc vineyard along with dolomitic limestone. This type of lime includes magnesium which you need as well. We are using organic fertilizers as opposed to the highly soluble chemical fertilizers manufactured using petroleum. Naturally mined rock is preferred as it will break down in the soil slowly over time. There will be a point in a few years where we no longer need to apply fertilizers with this approach whereas the conventional farmer using petroleum based fertilizers has to apply them year after year and in the process damages roots and makes the soil compaction problem worse. Hard soils cannot drain water and grapevine roots like other roots shut down when they are drowned. Your vineyard will be healthy, your fruit less prone to disease, and the earthworms will return to this dead soil.

In their current state, the soils in your vineyard have all the vitality of sand. The CEC (catation exchange capacity) at 4.4 means they (the cations) are limited in their ability to hold magnesium and phosphorous (anions). This means fertilizer needs on an annual basis are fairly high since what you apply to the soil tends to pass right through. So in addition to getting the soils in balance and healthy we have to feed soluble fertilizers to the vines. We will do like one of the local tomato farms and buy a 50 gallon tank of liquid fish fertilizer and feed it to the vines using the irrigation system. This is call "fertigation".

I told Ann Pallie I would come get her horse manure: all of it. (It would be cheaper for you to have a truck come get all of it at once than for me to make many trips. I will look for a trucker.) Her horse manure is ideal because it contains both carbon (sawdust) and nitrogen (manure) in ratios which facilitate rapid decomposition. The end result is humus. We need to spread humus on the vineyard to get the organic material up in the soil and do this every year. This stimulates bacteria and fungi and other microbial life to work on the minerals in the soil releasing them to the roots and thus the vine. Over time this will improve the CEC as well. Humus improves soil texture (tilth), makes it crumble (friable), and helps the soil retain moisture.

Soils need anions like sulfur and boron added each year because these have a negative electric charge and thus cannot cling to negatively charged clay soil particles (in fact they are pushed away). So they leech into the soil and the plant can no longer reach them. But we are covered. I have a bag of calcium borate in your tool shed and have applied about 1 lb to the cab franc vineyard (it does not take much). And sulfur is sprayed on the vineyard as a protection against powdery mildew as is copper sulphate. So the spray program covers the copper and sulfur needs which we add boron by hand.

The final part of the soil nutrition plan is to plant and shallow incorporate into the soil legumes like clover to add nitrogen to the soil as well as smother crops like rye grass to keep out the weeds and poison ivy. I planted both crimson and red clover in the cab franc vineyard. These plants "fix" nitrogen from the air (80% of the air we breath is nitrogen) and draw it into the plants. So when the plant is tilled into the ground it releases nitrogen back into the soil for other plants to use. Nitrogen is not listed on the soil report because it is highly volatile. When you apply it is drifts off into the air in the form of ammonia and leeches in the soil in the form of nitrates. So when you incorporate rate it you need to till the soil or lose most of it in the air or better yet grow your own nitrogen in the manner I just described.

Anyway that is the plan with regards to soil health. Of course the plan for disease, weed, and mildew control is another chapter in this volume of information.

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cut nameaverage weightprice per pound
whole goat45 lbs$5.00
hind shanks1.6$9.50
loin 2.8$14.50
back6.5cubed ($9.50)
back (rib)6.2$14.50
outside shoulder$10.5$9.50
fore shank2.2ground ($7.50)
neck1.7ground ($7.50)

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Gardening for God

Before I went to visit Berea Gardens Hartland farm I read Victor Davis Hanson’s “Agrarian Dreams”. This professor of the classics at San Jose State University has become a commentator having been propelled into some notoriety over the immigration debate with his book “Mexifornia”. “Agrarian Dreams” is a memoir of Mr. Hanson’s raisin and plum farm that he tended with his family in the San Fernando Valley in California. After reading this book the first time I wrote Mr. Hanson a fan letter of sorts saying that we both had a lot in common: I too had written on the subject of illegal immigration for a Washington think tank, I too was a grape farmer, and I had been an arm chair scholar enamored with the classics. But then I felt silly because I took a second look at his book and realized it was a deeply sad chronicle of a family’s failed efforts to make a profit with grapes and plums. With the seconding reading the effect was the same as when Lionel Trilling wrote a critique of the poetry of Robert Frost. The “over the hills and through the woods” poetry of Robert Frost he said was not at all cheerful stuff suitable for school age children. Rather it was the melancholy musings of a sad man who actually buried his own son in his back yard and wrote about it in the poem “Home Burial”.

Victor Davis Hanson relates his family’s struggles to make a profit with raisins and plums. He is a conservative yet he blames President Reagan and his department of agriculture for the collapse in raisin prices that drove so many people including Mr. Hanson’s family off of the family farm. His animosity for the secretary of agriculture is like that of Wendell Berry who devotes so much of his ire at Richard Nixon’s Agriculture Secretary Butz who was promoting the idea that the only way that a farm could prosper was to get large. Butz actually wrote that “food is a weapon”.

Mr. Hanson says that while prices for commodities like raisins fell below the price at which they could be grown the middleman who operated cold storage facilities that could keep several acres of fruit chilled were making profits as they always had done. While the farmer was forced to even let his crop rot in the field for lack of a market as the price of raisins full under President Reagan the price in the grocery store remained the same or went higher.

I had bought Mr. Hanson’s book used from and someone had stamped into the cover “discard” as if some library had decided to toss it out. But its theme is current today. Mr. Hanson would be pleased that with the go local, go organic movement family farms are again in vogue and it is now possible to break even with your farm and perhaps even make a profit organic agribusiness notwithstanding

Organic farming is not just a way to grow food for the students and teachers at Hartland College. For these Seventh Day Adventists who are vegans it is a way of live and a part of their religion. These Vegetarians for Jesus operate the Berea Gardens Agricultural Ministries in Virginia where learning to farm is required of every student who graduates from the college.

Bob Gregory is in charge of the greenhouses and farm here having emigrated to Virginia from California 5 years ago where he spent 30 years growing almonds and cut flowers. I could not help but be a bit envious as he stood in his greenhouse showing me beautiful onions, bell peppers, beets, and Swiss chard all varieties I had found difficult to grown in the formerly compacted soils of my own vegetable garden (things have much improved on my own farm since I embraced organic techniques). Male students in jeans and tee shirts and women in skirts worked in the fields hoeing 5 acres of sweet potatoes, egg plants, lettuce, asparagus, and sweet corn. The work here was not just academic—these students and their mentor were saddled with the responsibility of feeding the student body.

Off to the side of the vegetable plots was a large compost pile made of the leftovers from vegetable plants, alfalfa grown for this purpose, and peanut shells hauled in by the truckload from North Carolina. Unlike a lot of organic growers Bob Gregory does not use cow manure for compost because he says that cows could have been giving antibiotics which of course would end up in their manure. Other than that he follows most of the ideas of organic farming but is put off by the rigidity of some of the rules here. He says, “Frankly I disagree with some of the organic standards.” He feels some of the organic standards as stipulated by the USDA do not make much sense. He grows his vegetables “without the use of toxic pesticides. I don’t claim that it’s organic.”

Bob explains agriculture is “part of our faith”. He says, “There are lessons to be learned in the garden that are of a spiritual nature.” Certainly the poet Wendell Berry would agree with that. There is also a practical goal to all this farming which is to teach the students something useful for when they go out and do missionary work in rural areas.

I asked Bob how he controls pests without chemical pesticides. Part of the secret is timing he says. He explains that flea beetles which love the tender leaves of eggplants are a problem for three weeks in the spring. So he times the planting to get the plants established after that first cycle. Beyond that he uses insecticidal soap.

Berea Gardens grow tomatoes indoors to have less problems with fungal diseases like late blight. One of the advantages of growing inside is they can get high enough temperature (135 Fahrenheit) to drive the virus out within a week by closing the windows.

He says root-eating nematodes are a problem in parts of the farm. The control is to let mustard grow for a year. The seeds they drop drive out the nematodes.

The farm here is 6 acres of vegetable gardens and 300 acres of corn and soybeans. Here is where Bob has chosen to be practical rather than dogmatic. He uses the conventional preemergence atrazine to keep the weeds out of his corn. Without that he says there would be more weeds that corn.

Berea Gardens also grow watermelons and blueberries. He says watermelons get lots of viral diseases. Bob rotates by the melons by hand to avoid forming a yellow spot one one side and to keep insects from tunneling in. He puts copper on the blueberries because “A couple of different bacterial attack them.” The other problem here is the obvious one for people on the East Coast and that is Japanese Beetles. He says in one night they trapped 25 pounds of them. He had never seen a problem like this in California and complain they attack everything, even the sweet corn.

Commenting on the difference between dry weather agriculture in California and the rain, heat, humidity, and severe cold of Virginia he says of his students, “If they can grow a successful garden here they can do it anywhere.”

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Goats at Rosewood Hill Farm

Located 1.5 hours from Washington, D.C. in Rappahannock County Rosewood Hill Farm is 65 acres of pasture and forest. We sell grass fed goats.

Did you know that most goat meat sold in the Washington area is from goats raised in far away places like Texas, New Zealand, and Australia? There they are fed pure protein and straw then trucked or flown several thousand miles across the country using up lots of petroleum. It is much better for your health and the environment to buy locally grown meat and vegetables. Our goats are treated with kindness and are happy playing outdoors nibbling on grass and vines. We do not give our goats growth hormones or antibiotics because we don't believe you should eat those either.

Most Virginia farms raise cattle but goat meat is the meat most widely consumed in the world so it makes sense for the local farmer to cater to the large number of Indians, Persians, Arabs, Asians, and Latinos living here. Se habla español también.

Whole goats $65.

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