In 2013 things are changing at the farm. For the winter season harvests will be coming out of back to back yards in St. Johns. I wish I could find an acre or so of clean dirt and good water in St. Johns because the soil here is amazing! Unfortunately the yards aren't that big so this is just a transitional piece while the farm moves, and expands starting in the spring. I'm moving production down to Sherwood and the farm is going to partner with Community By Design which will open up lots of great opportunities. Their farm already produces incredible blueberries, eggs and meat. I'll continue with the vegetables, but will expand the available number of shares significantly, and also add an option for dry beans, dry corn and winter squash. This will also be the first year that I'll hire help for the farm.
I started Slow Hand Farm in 2009. Danny Percich and I turned the first ground in March, by hand. With the help of a few volunteers that year we managed to dig up 2800 square feet of growing space, all by hand, and to grow shares for about 45 CSA members. The first season we worked only one day a week, and had no propagation space. We did a single season that year, $200 for 30 or so weeks. Both of us had worked on CSAs for many years at that point. Years before we had worked together for two seasons at Sauvie Island Organics (if you're looking for a big share, check those guys out!) The farm has always been a bit of an experiment, a place for me to work on ideas. I do let folks come out and "volunteer," as a way to learn more about what we're doing and how to produce food. I don't rely on volunteers at all, and any labor that comes from them is bonus in my mind, not impacting the bottom line. Just to be as conservative as possible when I write about how profitable the farm is, I do include their hours worked. This may be skewing any numbers I put out on how much profit the farm makes a bit but not by much (I say that having run the numbers both ways).
Danny moved up to Ridgefield in 2010 to start Full Plate Farm on his wife's families land. It so happened that Kji McIntyre, another Sauvie Island Organics alum, was returning to Portland at that point so I invited him to work next to me as he developed his own operation. Kji and I worked up another 5200 square feet, putting the farm at a little under a quarter acre. We did use a BCS with a rotary plow for some of that work (something we're still rectifying). We also went to two days a week to even out some of the summer harvests. Yianni, the owner of Wild Goose Farm, bought a nice sized hoop house for his own summer production and we took that opportunity to set up a propagation system so we could grow starts and transplant, not just direct seed crops.
About the term "Organic"and my farming practices
I've been getting a lot of questions about wether or not the farm is Organic lately, which is great! Notice that Organic is in capitals and that is because the word is not an adjective, it is a certification mark at this point. Farms that are Organic are certified by a third party certifier which confirms that they follow the rules laid out by the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP). When you are buying food from a grocery this helps insure that through the relatively long supply chain that no one is making undue claims. Hiring a certifier costs money and takes time. For produce the rules boil down to the following:
- No synthetic fertilizers are used
- No synthetic herbicides are used
- No synthetic pesticides are used
- Some sort of rotation scheme is followed in the fields to maintain fertility and reduce pests and diseases
- The farm attempts to use Organic seed when possible
- Careful records are kept to confirm that standards are followed
The rules are much more involved than that in the details, and not completely black in white in practice of some of the finer points (for example - is plastic mulch used to keep weeds down a synthetic herbicide?), but those points are the foundation.
When most people ask if the farm is organic it is their way of asking if we are staying away from synthetic chemicals in our production. The answer is definitely YES! In fact, while I can't say for certain that I follow the NOP rules to the letter, I can say that I do follow all of the above points and I try to go beyond that, as many good organic farmers do. Beyond the rules, I try to minimize fossil fuel use by limiting use of a tractor, by delivering by electric bike, by limiting inputs and by sourcing many supplies as close to home as possible.
It's hard though. The farm is not perfect and I use much more plastic than I originally intended, just to point out one example. I also source some seed all the way from Italy because it's great seed, although a lot of my seed comes from my friends at Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Oregon.
Here are the basic approaches I use for the above points:
- For fertility I use cover crops and compost them on site. I also add lime for Calcium and feather meal for Nitrogen based on soil fertility tests.
- For weed control I use a variety of hoes and occasionally my hands. Proper bed preparation and other cultural practices limit weed competitiveness.
- For pests my primary approach is exclusion by using floating row cover (spun polyester). For voles I trap, and for slugs I kill them one by one as I see them. Much of the pest control is more in the diversity of plantings and other cultural practices that encourage strong plant growth.
- Crops and cover crops to feed the soil are rotated constantly, and these contribute to fertility, weed control and pest control.
- I primarily use Organic seed, but I do use a few varieties that I know to be excellent and that are not available Organically (probably only a handful at most). I also use some of my own saved seed (also probably only two or three varieties at this point).
- I am a careful record keeper and I am also always open to showing off the farm and giving tours when I'm there.
Besides some of the folks I mentioned above, I feel I have to mention Casey Palmer at Near East Yoga. I literally would not have started the CSA without his encouragement. I've been practicing at Near East for at least eight years now and Near East has been a distribution site for the CSA, as well as a major source of CSA members, since the beginning.
I also want to mention that a number of fine folks at W+K set up a pick up site for me there and have coordinated a great site there for W+K employees for the past two years. It's always a funny contrast to work out in the fields all day and then walk into one of the cleanest, hippest spaces I've ever seen at the end of the day.
The biggest thank yous go to all of the CSA members who have paid for the literal fruits of our labors and to the many volunteers and visitors we've had over the years. I've struggled within this website with wether or not to use "I" or "we." I think of the farm very much as "we", but technically, as a business, it's just me so I've mostly used the "I." Without all of you though, it doesn't exist.
Slow Hand Farm has also been the name I've worked under for the past few years consulting with growers, teaching workshops, and doing various other food production projects. There's more information over at a website I'm developing - joshvolk.com - if you're interested, check it out.