Seed ordering time!

This week the seed order goes out, and as soon as they arrive we’ll be busy planning and mapping out each week- starting seedlings, cleaning up garden beds and planting early crops in the hoop house, transplanting seedlings… it will be non-stop activity until late fall! It helps to remember that, because it’s so easy to get excited and carried away when looking through “the seed stash”.

February is such a cold and dark month, so I’m grateful for the time spent with notebooks and seeds and garden books. The garden is perfect in my mind. It’s full of potential! It’s warm, it’s sunny, it’s full of new life and the promise of good food.

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Visioning for 2013

It’s a cold blustery day in January, and so planning for a new garden infuses the mind with warm visions of growth and abundance. I really don’t know what I did to combat the mid-winter blues before I was a gardener!

Working for Dawn Farm has been an incredible experience so far. It is a joy and a challenge- and really, that’s what worthwhile work is all about. One of the best things about my job as the gardener is that I have the privilege of watching clients come through the farm and get to share a little bit in their journey to recovery.

Taking care of a garden and animals is such good work. Eating food that you’ve grown yourself can be immensely rewarding. I only hope that some of these folks who come through the Farm can experience some of what I have in this area.

The goals for this year are simple- I aim to keep growing a garden that benefits the people who live at the Farm. I want to keep working towards a farm that grows in health and diversity. I want to see a farm that feels productive and organized, and, most importantly, feeds people well.

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A new year!

2012 was quite a year for the garden! We had many challenges, a lot of opportunities for growth and reflection, and a lot of homegrown food!! This year we’ve got a lot planned, and I want to do a better job of keeping all of you in the loop. From now on I’ll be doing a weekly blog post here. I’m looking forward to regularly sharing and involving folks who stop by to read!

I figure the best way to start is to pick up where we left off. We accomplished a lot, and I did manage to grab quite a few pictures along the way. So, a visual tour of our last year gardening, and then forward with the weekly updates here in 2013.

Pictured below is our little garden area in the basement of the facility, back in February/March. We started all our own seedlings! It was quite an operation, and thankfully most things survived to make it out to the garden!

Here are some lettuce seedlings in soil blocks. We liked using the soil blocks as a plastic-free alternative. You can read more about soil blocking here.

Below you can see many of our early seedlings hardening off out in the hoop house, getting ready to be planted.

Then we entered one of the hottest and driest summers I can remember. It was tough for the crew to work in that heat. It was hard to keep up with watering and even just general maintenance. Some of our crops just wilted in the heat.

But, as is always the case in gardening, we had a lot of success too.

We had a great garlic crop (see below).

We had amazing groups of volunteers come out and give us loads of support- even in the oppressive heat.

We had sugar snap peas, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, squash, lettuce, beets, cucumbers, etc. We even ate some wild edibles like lamb’s quarters!

We encountered quite a few pests. Our theory was that because it was so hot and dry, many of the predatory insects that we rely on suffered and so pest insects thrived.

Next year I plan to combat the pests by creating a habitat for beneficial insects, including plants for pollinators, and areas for them to rest and get water. We have an organic garden here, so it’s important to us to combat pests without chemicals. It’s more about keeping things in balance than eliminating pests. I saw that theory in action this year by how well most things actually did- most things improved from the previous year. We had pests and some struggles, but we always saw something thriving.

We filled our new hoop house with beautiful heirloom tomatoes. They were hit pretty hard with the tomato hornworm, but we did our best to keep it in check and we had lots of tomatoes to show for it!

One thing that really thrived in the heat was our peppers. They were super resilient and productive. Each plant hung heavy with fruit, and we had bags and bags of them to store for this winter.

We got invited to an event at Zingerman’s Creamery this summer to participate in a picnic for non-profits. There we were able to hand out info about the farm and sell some of our produce. It was lots of fun!

It was a good year, all told. This coming year we have a lot planned- we’re always growing and changing around here, and the garden is no exception! I’ll share more details next week.

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Cool People Update

Here’s the update-

February:

Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb from Selma Cafe. They were truly inspiring! Here’s a quick recap for those of you that didn’t make it: Selma is hosted at the couple’s home in Ann Arbor every Friday morning. You show up, put on a name tag, have an amazing meal made by local chefs with local ingredients, hang out with great people from all over the county, and then leave a donation in a jar at the table. Those donations go to keeping Selma up and running, but then also get funneled back into the community by way of helping to fund the construction of new hoop houses on local farms. Really an inspired idea!

Jeff also spoke about his new project at Tilian Farm Development Center. This project is a “farm incubator”- essentially, they help new farmers get their businesses started that perhaps otherwise would not be able to. They do this by hosting them on a piece of land, providing them with access to tools, facilities, and resources to help them get their farms up and running. After a few years, the aim is that they will be able to buy their own land and equipment and continue providing good food for the people of the community while creating a healthy livelihood for themselves and their families.

These two were a great example of the whole “Farm & Food” concept. They have a mind for really making a sustainable food system a reality! It was a real pleasure to have them out at the Farm. You can contact them on their site for volunteer opportunities, and also be sure to check out the Tilian site for more information about the organization and their farms.

March:

Cool People #3- David Klingenberger, owner/chef at The Brinery. This event was seriously fun. The Brinery produces a number of naturally fermented products using produce from local farms. Think sauerkraut, pickled beets, kimchi, etc. These foods have a history rooted in ancient tradition. David was charming as ever and gave us a whole run-down on the history of these pickled treasures, as well as talk about his passion for farming and good food. To quote his website:

“Raw lacto fermented foods are rich in lactobacteria, similar to yogurt, and have many health benefits such as aiding digestion and boosting the immune system.”

Not only did we get to learn all about what makes David love what he does, we also got to taste everything. Oh my, what a treat! These pickles are not like your ordinary vinegar pickles. They hail a variety of complex flavors that are sure to compliment any palate. Not to mention they are all amazingly good for you! You can find David’s products popping up all over the place- at food co-ops, farmer’s markets, and most recently at the local Zingerman’s Deli atop their amazing Reuben sandwich.

Watch for updates on our next event… to be announced!

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Farm & Food #2: Selma Cafe

Announcing the second event in our “Cool People Series”! The first event was a raging success- Chef Alex Young from Zingerman’s was truly inspiring. He was the perfect person to kick off the series.

Next up we’ve got Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb from Ann Arbor’s Selma Cafe. From their own website, they describe Selma as: “a hub, a center, a heart of the many ongoing efforts to improve our lives through community building and free access to affordable, healthy foods and efforts to foster right-livelihood in vocations with meaning and purpose.

See the above flyer for more information. We hope to see you there!

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Cool People Series!

Lots of things happening at the farm! While things have slowed down outside, we have turned our focus inwards. We think of all the successes we had, and we also look for all the ways to be better in the year to come. It’s a welcome time of reflection- time to think and plan rather than just do. Given the busy pace that comes with a garden in summer, this is a welcome change.

In the spirit of this season of learning and sharing, we’ve planned an exciting new educational series that puts the spotlight on individuals who have done good work in the fields of farm and/or food. These people are all unique examples of this work done right! We figure, there is a lot of innovation and creativity out there, and a lot of really interesting minds who are happy to share their stories.

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First up, Chef Alex Young of Zingerman’s Roadhouse. See above flyer for more details. I hope you all can join us, and stay posted for updates on the coming events!

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Harvest!

We are up to our ears in fresh vegetables, folks.

We’ve recently started combining efforts from the garden and the kitchen to more effectively use all this fresh produce. In a weekly meeting, we hear ideas from both sides to plan out a week’s menu and fill it with garden goodness. So far so good!

What’s been on the menu lately? Baked acorn squash and fresh herbs, roasted fingerling potatoes, chili made with homegrown tomatoes, homemade pizza with fresh veggies, warm kale with ham… Oh yes. This is what it’s all about!

Whatever we’re not eating goes straight into storage. Mostly, that means we’re freezing lots and lots of tomatoes for use throughout the year. We’ve even been making sauerkraut!

This year has been a big one- a lot of surprising weather, some pests and diseases to combat in the garden, not to mention all of the work and dedication that it’s taken to expand the garden to the size it is now… it’s over 5 times the size that it was last year! Despite all of that, we’ve come out ahead. I can only see it getting better from here.

::Things that have not done so well in the garden this year: Cucumbers, cauliflower, radishes, onions, corn. Each year there are losses, but we can always learn something and strive to do better next year!

::Things that have rocked-out in the garden this year: Peas, lettuce, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, fresh herbs, green beans, squash, greens, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, eggplant, and gourds.

I’d say we have a lot to be grateful for.

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