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Monday, August 31, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Good organic seed garlic, such as that we get from Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa, can cost from $2.50-$3.50 per head. While garlic can be gotten cheaper than that, we've stuck with Seed Savers for several reasons. A, their garlic is grown in Iowa and so is more likely to be adapted to our climate than garlic from, say, Washington state. B, we appreciate the work they do preserving heirloom garlics and wish to support their diversity. C, their seed garlic has consistently been very high quality and we feel we're getting what we pay for.
That being said, it is expensive and garlic is reasonably easy to save for replanting, so every year we move toward saving more of our own. This has the dual benefits of saving us quite a bit of money, and also allowing us to select our garlic strains for the best adaption to our unique conditions.
This year (fall of 2008, actually) we planted twelve varieties of garlic, in varying amounts. Some of these were purchased, and some were saved from 2008. When we harvested the garlic in June, we sorted each variety into four grades by size and quality:
From left to right: Seed garlic, A garlic, B garlic, and sub-B. Seed grade is the largest and best-formed; we save this for replanting, although it would be the most lucrative to sell. A and B are market-grade heads, in which A is full-size and well formed, and B is still high quality but smaller than we'd like. Sub-B is anything that's deformed, unusually small, or otherwise not up to our market standards. The photo is vague, at least at a small scale, but hopefully you can see the rough gradient from left to right.
Above, you see our yields for 2009. We had more Bs than we would have liked for some varieties, but overall it was a good year. The 200 saved seed heads will save us somewhere from $500-$700 on seed cost, though we're buying some to keep expanding our plantings. The As and Bs are the garlic customers see at market, while the sub-Bs form our winter supply. Figuring on averaging two heads of garlic per week from September through March, that's about 60 heads needed, so we're close enough. Below, you see some of our seed garlic and our winter B garlic hung in a back room of the house for storage:
Finally, consider the As and the Bs. We sell As at $2/head, and Bs at $1.50/head. Just this past week we ran out of As for all but Shvelisi, and so have started bringing Bs instead, so if you noticed a price drop, that's why. The garlic is the same quality, just a bit smaller, so you pay a bit less. We find it easier to sell all the As first, then start in on the Bs, rather than having a more confusing stand with multiple prices and sizes.
So if you do the math, when we've sold all the As and Bs by the end of the year, we'll have made around $720 gross. Add in sales of early garlic scapes and some green garlic, and it comes out to around $900 gross. Take away the $350 we spent on seed garlic, and you get about $550 net, not counting time, labor, mulch, marketing, and so on. This is why we charge what we do; $500 net is not a lot for 8 months of care. Our costs will go down every year as we save more seed, but that will just allow us a more reasonable profit margin on it. Good thing we love to grow garlic!
Update: In all this, I didn't mention rot. A certain percentage of heads will go bad; genetic variability means there are always a few clunkers. This risk increases the longer they're stored, obviously, which is partly why we sell the best ones first. I mention this in part because we do our best to check sale heads for signs of rot, but it's not always obvious at the surface, and we make mistakes. A recent customer noted that he'd had a partially bad one, which I happily replaced. Just another fact of life with produce.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
First, we recieved a very nice writeup from Scott Rowson of the Columbia Tribune, who writes an excellent and thoughtful biweekly food column. This column ran last Wednesday, and resulted in a significant uptick in folks asking about edamame at Saturday's market. Unfortunately, that day I had the final harvest for the year, and sold all 30lb by 10:00, so had to give bad news to many later folks. Sorry. You can still get our edamame at Sycamore Restaurant, which purchased a large amount and is currently serving them as an appetizer on their bar menu.
We also had a nice interaction with Dr. Elizabeth Alleman of Harrisburg, who came out to the farm to buy her winter's supply of garlic after a friend's reference. She later wrote a nice piece on her website about the garlic and our farm.
There was also an interesting writeup in a recent publication from the Missouri Farmers Union, though there doesn't seem to be a version online. The writer including several paragraphs about our farm in two-page story about local foods, and though I don't remember ever talking to him, he did a good job of summarizing our farm and our beliefs. Must have read the website thoroughly!
Finally, I want to thank all the customers who enjoyed our edamame and other products over the season so far. This past month especially has been good for us at market, with many loyal customers returning every week and a lot of interest in what we have to offer. Many folks have made a point of giving us reviews of the products they buy, and we really appreciate the feedback. So far it's been 99% positive, so we must be doing something right. Even so, please, please, please tell us if you ever get something bad. We need to know so we can fix it and prevent it.
We have a lot of items in the ground for the fall, and hope to stay at market through October and even November, depending on weather and all that. Thanks for your support so far and we'll keep seeing you at market.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Legume beds are also easy to turn around to the next crop. Above is a set of four early edamame beds that we were able to quickly clear, hoe, and replant into fall crops because the heavy bean bushes shaded out most weeds and kept the soil in good condition. I have a photos series from this vantage showing us clearing the old plants, hoeing, seeding, and mulching. When I have time, I'll convert that into a stop-action series showing how this quick turnaround is achieved.
So anyway, we like legumes, they're fun to grow, they improve our soil, and they provide us and our customers with some of the best-tasting and unique food on the farm. Pretty good for a staple plant.
Friday, August 21, 2009
We expect to dig a few purple fingerling potatoes Friday, so hopefully we will have some of those if the voles didn't beat us to them. They're a deep purple all the way through and very, very tasty as new potatoes.
Also, we'll have some pints of small pearl-type onions, yellow and red. These were pretty popular on Wednesday, so I'll bring some more. They're nice for roasting or stews, or for folks who don't like to use a lot of onion at once and hate cutting up a big onion and putting half back in the fridge.
This will be, guaranteed, the last day for edamame. We got a pretty good second harvest off the final few rows and sold some Wednesday, but the rest will be available Saturday. Then we're done. We'll also have some more of our heirloom green bean mix, and of course a wide variety of garlic. Basil, parsley, mint, sage, tarragon, lemon balm, and dill heads will likely be available.
Our fall planting of the very popular Fin de Bagnol green beans is looking very healthy, so sometime in September you can expect those to return. More of most of the new items will start showing up in the coming weeks as their production reaches stride.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
In comparative pricing, you look at what at item is already going for, whether at the grocery store or at market, and decide where to set your price relative to others. So if the store has tomatoes at $2/lb, maybe you choose to go to $2.50 or $3 because you think yours are better and fresher. Or maybe you decide you want to give customers a deal and go to $1.50 and sell lots of tomatoes. Or maybe you decide that your tomatoes look better or worse than others' at market and set your prices based on that. However the decision is reached, you're basically setting your prices from the demand end of the economic scale: what's the going rate customers are paying, how does my product fit into that, and how desperate am I to move that product?
Production pricing means ignoring outside prices, and looking just at what the product cost you to grow in terms of time, material, loss, and profit margin, and setting the price at a point where you're going to make the amount of money you want to make. Frankly, this is a lot riskier, because often the production price isn't particularly relevant to the comparative price. This is one reason why local foods are often perceived to be more expensive, because most of us aren't getting the steep cuts in production cost granted by things like irrigation subsidies, cheap migrant labor, industrial efficiencies of scale, or unsustainable use of resources. Production pricing means paying pretty close attention to all the time and inputs you use on each product, and trying to back-calculate from that what it's actually worth to you.
Frankly, I think far more growers need to keep production pricing in mind, especially hobby or non-full-time growers. If you're just doing this for fun, or side income, you're far more likely to go the comparative route and unload product at whatever the going rate is because it's not really a business. I know one person who has proudly proclaimed that their prices are cheaper than Wal-Mart's, despite the near-impossibility of achieving that with any kind of reasonable profit margin (this person has a spouse with a full-time job and benefits). I've seen many people selling produce at prices that simply don't work in an economic sense (like garlic for $.50/head) for an actual business, though maybe they're breaking even on their fun hobby. Basically, production pricing works from the supply end of the economic scale: this is what I produce, this is how much it costs to produce, and this is the income I need to make on it regardless of demand.
Although the reality is obviously not that black-and-white, on our farm, we are working very hard to rely more on production pricing than comparative, especially because we do intend to make a full living on this business, not just supplement other income. That means that like a garage or a restaurant, we have to not just cover costs, but actually make a reasonable income that allows us to cover things like health insurance and retirement planning which hobby growers don't have to rely on their vegetables for. We have actively chosen not to grow certain popular products like slicer tomatoes and sweet corn, for which we don't think we can get a price that makes it worthwhile to grow, regardless of the demand for them. We see no point in having a popular but unprofitable business.
Obviously this consideration is going to be different for every farm, and customer reaction to prices partly depends on their opinion and knowledge of the farm in question. Are you looking for a good deal on tomatoes, or trying to support a certain method of farming? Does it matter that we're a self-sufficient organic farm, or should we have to find ways to meet the best-deal price regardless of other factors? Certainly our choice of no-till, deeply organic methods raises the cost of our produce somewhat compared to a highly chemicalized, highly mechanized local farm (of which there are plenty), but we believe there is long-term value in our methods and ask our customers to consider all factors of their economic choices, just as we do in our personal lives.
We believe that the strongest votes are cast by wallets, not ballots, and people who buy from us are very much voicing their support for the way we're choosing to farm and to live. This is especially true given that we're very open about our practices and willing to have customers out to see what we do. Really, I see it as equivalent to any other values-driven economic choice, like the concept of a "Christian family business" or "American-made". We're grateful to those who choose to support what we do, and hope they'll tell us if we ever let them down.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
If the customer who asked about yellow cucumbers on Saturday is reading this, I will indeed be holding back half a dozen for you. Hope to see you there, and hope the weather cooperates and defies the forecast.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Guard units have helped build irrigation systems, distributed wheat seed to farmers, set up canning plants for fruits and vegetables, and planted thousands of fruit and nut trees, among other projects.
Friday, August 14, 2009
We simplified this to fit the ingredients we had on hand, simply tossing 1lb of tomatillos in a blender along with 3 cloves of mild garlic, 1/2 cucumber, a few cups of our thawed chicken broth, and some salt and sugar. The taste was fantastic just like that, though I can see how the avacado, olives, shrimp, and other extras in the original recipe would add complexity. This soup was actually a great example of why diverse garlic matters, as we used a variety intended for raw use, and didn't end up with any burning or long-lasting garlic flavor the way stronger varieties can. We topped the soup with chopped cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and ate the whole batch in one sitting. This is a definite winner. Pick up some tomatillos tomorrow and try it for yourself.
NEW THIS WEEK
Tomatillos. We'll see how many we have; I brought 6 pints to market on Wednesday and hope to have at least that many Saturday (a pint is about 3/4 lb). Salad Garden should have them as well, if/when we run out. Our plants are loaded with small fruit, but they mature slowly and every time I check I expect to find more ready than I actually do. One of these weeks we're going to be flooded with them.
Garlic, green bean mix, edamame, possibly some cucumbers, full mix of herbs, and more.
DONE FOR NOW
Nothing yet, but green beans and edamame are close. Maybe one more week on these. Look for our edamame at Sycamore and Main Squeeze, to whom I made deliveries on Tuesday. This will be the best remaining week for edamame, so consider buying some extras and freezing them, which multiple folks did at the Wednesday market. Just boil them for 2.5 minutes, then either freeze as-is, or shell before freezing. Then you can pop them out anytime over the winter, give them a quick final cook, and enjoy the taste.
Okra and cherry tomatoes will someday be ready.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
We've had three really good market days in a row now, anchored by the very popular trio of diverse garlic, heirloom green beans, and edamame. We've been getting so much good feedback on these products and are thrilled with how well they're selling and how much people like them. We haven't had a whole lot of diversity lately, though, as our cherry tomatoes, okra, tomatillos, and other summer items are taking their time to come on.
The market garden has been somewhat neglected lately (I don't even have current photos), as we're spending so much time harvesting beans and edamame in the main field, and clearing & replanting beds for fall items. In the above photo, you see edamame in the foreground, newly planted fall greens & radishes behind them, sorghum off to the left, dent corn to the right, drying soup beans in front of the corn, then in the back middle we have edamame, amaranth, tomatillos, and okra. Not pictured are sunflowers, more beans, potatoes, and sweet corn (this latter just for us). The white blooms in the far back are a buckwheat cover crop which is loaded with bees right now.
Joanna, especially, has been getting fall items seeded in the market garden (collards, kale, mustard, bok choi, turnips, & more) . Our cherry tomatoes are finally ripening, and cucumbers & squash are finally producing (we only have small quantities of these last two).
Weather, as always, is a factor. Last week a strong storm swept over Goatsbeard Farm while I was working, pelting the dairy with pea-sized hail for about 15 minutes. Luckily this missed our farm, though the next morning a related front swept through with high winds, which funneled down our main field's valley and flattened a lot of our very tall sorghum. Some of this has since made an amazing recovery, but there are still lots of broken stalks:
Friday, August 7, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
We butchered all four one recent afternoon, saving two for fresh consumption and freezing two for later. We got four different nice meals out of the first two, briefly summarized below.
We kept this one whole, stuffed the cavity with our fennel, onions, and garlic, and roasted it in a pan with chopped potatoes. I had rubbed the breast with orange zest, and the meat came out with a nice citrus flavor, while the roasted vegetables carried a good duck flavor.
Duck with peach marinade
This was loosely inspired by a recipe in the Tribune, which accompanied a nice column on the values of local foods and businesses. For our version, I marinated the breasts and legs from a single duck in a sauce of water, chopped market peaches, salt, sugar, and cider vinegar. Then I simmered everything together for hours, resulting in nice, tender meat that fell off the bone, topped with the reduced peach sauce. Served with sides of our fresh oven-roasted potato fries and sauteed fresh beans with garlic, this was a great meal (see below)
Duck broth vegetable soup
With any poultry we use, we always keep and boil the carcasses for broth, yielding lots of tasty liquid plus the last scraps of meat that are easier to strip once cooked. We generated several gallons of broth this time, freezing some and saving some for a basic soup. In this case, I just combined lots of our onions, garlic, potatoes, green beans, and zucchini in a long-simmering duck broth, with appropriate salt, pepper, herbs, and some frozen basil cubes left over from last year. Toward the end, I added a few cups of lentils for heartiness. Easy, filling, and tasty.
Duck stir fry
Finally, with the scrap meat left over from the four-carcass broth, I made a simple stir fry with the meat, our garlic, onions, green beans, and zucchini, flavoring it with soy sauce and rice vinegar. 15 minutes from start to finish.
All that from two young birds, plus two more in the freezer along with broth. Not a bad exchange, and our lives are just a little simpler again without four stubbornly independent birds crapping on our front step.
And, of course, no article on eating duck can end without a mention of the Fawlty Towers Gourmet Night: