Well the end of the 2012 CSA season is creeping in. The birds are migrating, the wood-stove is in use, and we are finally getting to slow down a bit. We are so grateful for another successful season, not to say that there weren't many challenges and bumps in the road. But as the seasons have progressed so have our understanding of the true nature of farming and the importance of accepting the challenges.
With the passing of our third season we are ready to embark on a new chapter in our lives. We are in the process of buying a farm! The significance of the event is extremely important for many reasons. For one, Brian and I are so ready for our own home. No more leasing, no more feeling a yearning for permanence. We want a place for our family to truly call home and learn and grow together. We want to take root and build our dreams together knowing that the nails we pound and the posts we set will be permanent fixtures in our lives.
But also, and so so so importantly this is a really really really big deal for small-scale sustainable agriculture and our CSA.
This is a huge mile marker for our community. We have shown the world and ourselves that small scale sustainable agriculture is real, is viable, and is here to stay.
Brian and I moved to ND 3 years ago. We had $5,000, a pick-up truck, a horse trailer full of farming equipment, and a dream. The community of Bismarck and Mandan was so supportive and ready for our CSA. In three years we have gone from 50 members to 163 and we have quite a waiting list. Brian and I with the help of faithful volunteers, friends, and absolutely wonderful CSA members have created a thriving CSA full of life and vibrancy. Every Saturday families come out to the farm and pick strawberries, play, and enjoy making that connection to the farm. The CSA members have put their money where there mouth is and employed a family farm to grow their food. Our CSA members then had the challenge of putting their mouth where their money went and learned how to prepare and enjoy all the wonderful flavors that locally grown foods provided. We have all learned and grown together, from learning new recipes to paying attention to the weather more, to experiencing the challenges of agriculture. We have shown that yes smaller scale agriculture is a viable business. Vegetable farming is a real profession. In fact, it is so viable that in three years we have created a thriving enough business to be able to purchase a farm. Smaller scale farms all over the country right now are few and far between and not cheap either, and here around Bismarck and Mandan it is especially true.
This farm purchase is also a milestone because it means that Riverbound Farm will really become a long-term fixture in our community for years to come. This is our profession, our passion, and our dream and we want to share it with the community for the next 30 years. We have all worked together to demonstrate that this is real, this is significant, and when a community of people get together for a common goal (local organic vegetables and a community farm) then it can be done. Our CSA members are our livelihood. We have a vision of nourishing the CSA members on many levels for years to come, connecting with a farm and nature, developing a relationship with the farm and experience of farming, and with nutritional nourishment from fresh organic local vegetables and meats.
The new farm is loaded with possibilities. It is beautiful and welcoming. There is plenty of space for children to run and play. It is also easier for CSA members to access the vegetable crops and fields. We have so many ideas and dreams for the new farm and we really want to share the farm with the community. We want to really get people involved in helping build this community farm. Starting in May we will host work days every Saturday. We need to plant the new pick-your own area, build a play area, build a CSA shed, and breathe some CSA life into the farm. We want CSA members who have the desire to get dirty to have that opportunity. We are so excited and can hardly wait to see this process unfold.
So if you want to help create the new Riverbound farm and solidify it's place in the community please don't hesitate to let us know how you want to participate, and sign-up for the 2013 season.
Why Food Matters:
You are what you eat. We have all heard it. But you know what? It’s true. The human body is a complex and beautiful piece of machinery. Trillions of atoms, making up trillions of cells every day reproducing and working towards one common goal: the function of the human body. We all understand this basic concept and how it is fueled, but I think it can easily be taken for granted. Put something in your mouth, chew it, and then poof, it is gone. Our miraculous system breaks down that food to a molecular level and distributes it throughout our body, fuel for this, medicine for that, storage for later. A simple concept, yet an extremely complicated process.
So why does this mean food matters?
Well I for one can appreciate the fleeting, somewhat tantalizing taste of a Twinkie for oh maybe 30 seconds. But once you stop and think about that Twinkie, which is about as far from whole food as you can get, breaking down in your system, being distributed and delivered to various organs, muscles and glands for use, you might not want that packaged, over-produced food-porn to enter your body at all. You might just maybe stop and think “hey, I deserve better. I am a system of complex organs and trillions of cells, I want to be strong, I deserve a functioning immune system, I want to taste real food again, that’s it. I quit!”
I can appreciate junk food as an occasional part of my diet. I can definitely dig in on a doughnut, chow down some cookies, and fight over the pint of ice cream. But you know what I think we all could use a little more of? The appreciation of real food. Reintroduction to the kitchen. Remembrance of farm fresh milk and eggs. A re-acquaintance with the divine pleasure of a healthy whole-foods-based diet. And, the empowerment of community-supplied, local food chains. We can grow a healthier community through food. Local artisan food producers are like artists. They master the art of baking a loaf of bread, or creating the perfect cheese, or producing the highest quality grass-fed beef steaks. A farmer who puts their heart and soul into their work means that we as customers are eating food prepared with heart and soul, food of the highest quality. High quality food also satiates more than just our ideals, it is more nourishing and can help us stop overeating and start paying more heed to the value of each bite and each meal. Local food is produced by our neighbors. It actually creates and grows jobs. It helps incubate beginning farm enterprises. Local food is food security, job security, and economic security for the communities that feed these systems through consumer purchases and entrepreneurial ambitions. I love local food production and I believe that we as a community can become what we eat through local foods: healthier, more secure, and vibrant. : Angie McGinness
February, usually means the bitter cold dead of winter. For us it means we need to start getting serious. we had our 6-8 weeks of causal work. February means we need to kick it up a notch and get ready for our spring, which is march 1st in our greenhouse. Our CSA season ended the 2nd week of December, then Christmas, then a deep breath to refresh and relax with. We do however have a lot of work to do in the dead of winter, this year has been an absolute gift. The warm sunny days and lack of snow has enabled us to spend a lot of time outdoors working with our horses and cleaning up the farm from last season's torrent. Brian even dug 3 foot deep holes in January! We also have our dreaded indoor book work to do every winter. We have to balance our books from last season, do our complicated self employment taxes, create our entire planting plan for the following season, order seeds, and plan and research equipment and methods. Our planting plan is very detailed, we use a chart, and everyday that we start seeds in the greenhouse we have each variety of vegetable, how many seeds to start, when to put them into our field, and projected yield date with quantity. We take our job as a CSA farmer very seriously. We pride ourselves in offering a steady and large variety of high quality produce to our members. That takes planning. Then after our planting plan is done we need to order our seeds. Seed ordering also comes at the time of year between our incomes, the end of the last season's funds and a bit early for the next season's. Every year we spend thousands of dollars on our seeds. It is absolutely amazing how something so tiny can cost so much, they are our diamonds. After seeds are ordered, we need to order our potting mix supplies. We use a whole lot of peat, vermiculite, perlite, and compost for our potting mix. Hundreds of thousands of plants are started in our greenhouse. We also need to plan and fix all of our equipment up. In an effort to balance capital investments, living expenses, and building our business, we spend a lot of time working on broken down and dilapidated equipment that we have pulled out of the tree rows. The old equipment has been a blessing and a curse. Brian is our mechanic. He has patience and perseverance long after I elect to "just bring the thing into the shop". Industriousness is a word that really applies to the farmer. Especially one who runs a CSA. You have to do everything from be the business manager, to intense physical laborer, marketing rep, sales person, public speaker, and the friendly hostess. It is very challenging and rewarding.
So all of this needs to be done by March 1st, because March 1st is the day we start seeds in the greenhouse. We need our supplies ordered, our greenhouse cleaned up, books done, and our outdoor greenhouse ready, this year we will be building a new one again for the third year in a row. This time we are upgrading to a ND windproof version.
This year we are also going to become more mechanized. Not in the modern sense of the phrase but more traditional, horse powered. We will be plowing our field, discing, transplanting, cultivating the weeds, and well, adding fertility to the soil if you know what I mean ;) Creating a sustainable farm system run on sweat and grass. Horse powered vegetable production is having a bit of a Renaissance all over the country right now. Many young and ambitious forward thinking farmers have been drawn to this system. They have proven through example that the horse powered small farm is an extremely successful and useful system. We are very excited to participate in this "modern way of farming".
But, we do have a lot of equipment to fix up before our spring so I better go
Sincerely your farmer
Well here it is, December. The end of our season. The 2011 growing season was filled with many lessons and gifts for these two farmers. The biggest gift was learning the power of resilience, and our teacher was very unlikely, the plants themselves.
A tiny seed, some the smallest of specks. No one would assume the power and life that these tiny dots hold within. They seem so minuscule, fragile, and easily underestimated. The odds are against them: the right temperature, the right light, the right moisture. Yet they germinate, thrusting themselves from the soil. They turn toward the light, yearning to touch the sun.
Specks in our hands (expensive specs) have now turned into a greenhouse filled with new life. We dote on them. They give us life in so many ways. Our food, our income, our livelihood, so much is riding on these tiny new life forms. So many people have had faith in us, willing to pay us for food they will not receive for months.
Now months have past and we are eagerly in the garden, transplanting all of these adolescent plants into the dirt. No more coddling in our greenhouse, no more perfect temperature, no more gentle watering twice a day, no more ceiling!
Now they are exposed to that often wicked North Dakota wind, spring thunderstorms, and well, this year, the rising river.
This year the spring was late coming, we were nervous, we needed to get our plants in that ground we spent so much time prepping the fall before. Snow kept falling though, late into April and now it was May.
Then before we knew it, we would have to confront one of our biggest fears, the rising river. As a child I saw it swelled beyond it's banks. We boated on the fields. It was fun then, but now it was our cropland, our livelihood. I knew it would happen someday, our name is Riverbound Farm for a reason. But not this year, only our second season. Once our prepped ground went under we decided that "the high spot" would do. We plowed it and figured we would be wading in. Then that went under and before we knew it we thought we would lose it all. We fought and thought positive, kept our eye on the prize. We decided to plow up the only 2 acres we had left above water: the horse pasture. Oh the soil was black and beautiful and we were so thankful. The horses were put in the front yard and we scrambled to get our plants in. The river that was once a mile away was now lapping at our home site. The one acre surrounding the home was now becoming saturated and water was filling the rows, we were thankful for raised beds.
In all of this drama with the river we found our perseverance and strength. All we could do was keep planting. No more equipment, we would have to plant as close as possible, it would all be hand work now. Our bodies would be our weapons. Our backs would have to be strong and our stamina would have to fight the stress and chaos around us.
We would also undergo more losses. The team of horses that we put so much of our dreams into would be lost. The mare who was to bear us a foal in June got out of the pasture and on the highway late one Friday night. When the police officer pulled into the yard we were startled. Brian approached and he said our horses were out. Brian went to look for them. I stayed in the house with the kids. Then, a knock at the door. It was a man saying our horse was hit on the road and she needed to get put down. In a flash so many horrible scenarios flashed before me, was someone hurt, our horse needs to get shot. I panicked, grabbed every gun we owned and loaded them in the truck and called Brian. Brian was up on the road and ran home and grabbed the gun. I asked if anyone was hurt, he said no and was gone, gun in hand. There on the highway Brian had to shoot more than just our beloved mare. We felt the accident deep within us. The man who hit her walked away from the accident and was arrested for drunk driving and once again we pushed through. We planted, we weeded, we focused on growing the food for the 90 families that believed in us.
By midsummer our crops were doing so great. The bounty that our blood, sweat, and tears produced was glorious. Then the thunderstorms began. Friday night storms became the reality. Severe is almost an understatement. The rain would begin, then the hail and wind. The entire state was getting pummeled what seemed like daily. The ground water was so high here at the farm that the 3 inch rainstorms we would receive wouldn't drain. We had to sump-pump the gardens around the home. I remember standing outside pumping the garden after a severe hail and rainstorm and watching what seemed like an apocalyptic movie scene form above my head. Colors I didn't know existed swirled above. Then lightning, scary lightning. We ran for cover and tornado strength winds blew through the farm and golf ball size hail fell along with a few inches of rain. We waded knee deep in water in the most unlikely of places here at the farm. But, we pumped the gardens dry and the next day harvested for the CSA. This scene would be repeated several more times throughout the course of the summer. A tornado even went through the farm and so many of the beloved cottonwoods in the area came down, it was a war zone.
We began working our tails off in the greenhouse back in March. The aches, the stress, the long hours toiling over these plants, our food, our love, our passion, our paycheck. Then a storm would come weekly and pound and whip and crush our hard work, our food, our CSA member's faith in us. It was so hard. To feel as though you have no control, that one day you can work so hard on something only to have it taken away in an instant. I remember feeling so proud of our winter squash, they were so healthy and productive up there in the sod we had to break after the river flooded. Then boom, in a flash it was taken, broken into tiny bits, almost nothing. So many tears were shed during those months.
Despite the losses and destruction we still had so much bounty. We always had a great diverse selection of food. Our CSA members were so positive and supportive. Every week we had so much to harvest. Every week we kept planting. Something would be destroyed so we would prep new ground and plant more. All we had control over was our hard work. We would plant, plant, plant, never give up. What one storm might take away, one hard days work and some sunshine could replace.
The resilience that we saw out in the vegetable field though was truly miraculous. Those plants that seemed to be totally destroyed, chopped to pieces, blown totally over, snapped in half, dead to the world were not dead, just hurt. The crops I mourned over were almost overnight growing back ten fold. The life that sprang up and recovered storm after storm was inspirational. Yes, some were lost forever, but more often those plants came back bigger, better, and more resilient than ever. Those plants bore food, food enough for 90 families to nourish their bodies. Our roots here at the farm have deepened as well. Our souls nourished from the resilience that we have learned this season. There was a lot of loss for so many of us in the area but, so many of us have learned to persevere and deepen our roots in the rich soil. We can recover from hail storms. We can regrow with renewed strength and vigor and still share and spread life.
I strive to learn to be as resilient as a plant in my garden.
BY: Angie McGinness
May 1, 2011
Today may have started with snow on the ground, but that actually seemed kind of irrelevant. It’s May, and that has power! And despite the weather things are coming along nicely here at the farm.
Last week we built a little greenhouse for transplants, and we built it out of scraps and about $50 worth of plastic from the hardware store. 35 feet long by 16 feet wide. And it held up to the wind and “mixed” precipitation, and stayed above freezing with outside temperatures down to 25 last night, so we’re feeling pretty good about that.
I took a trip to visit a farmer who grew up on a North Dakota farm using working horses and just never left and never stopped using horses. But now, he’s going to retire some he told me. Slowing down he said. At eighty-six he figures he’d like to see some of his equipment stay in use, and so I went down to purchase some iron and soak up some camaraderie.
Someone commented to me recently (somewhat derisively, actually) that I was born about sixty years too late. Well, I know that’s not true, but I do seem to enjoy the company of that generation of farmers. They don’t seem to think I’m crazy when I talk about using horses to accomplish farm work. They don’t treat me like they think I’m overly idealistic, foolishly romantic or wasting my time. No, they seem to appreciate my interest. Having witnessed the transition from animal traction to tractors, from the agrarian farm to the industrial farm, many of them have questioned what was gained and what was lost. They recognize the benefits of self-reliance and thrift. They remember the joy of working with live power at a human pace. And they understand the precariousness of those agrarian skills, many of them almost lost completely.
So, I find myself chatting with an old man in a farmyard about the angle of draft on a sulky plow or the operation of the overshot stacker, what needs to be fixed on this, what needs to be adjusted on that. And now at Riverbound Farm we’ve got some new very old tools to help us get tomorrow’s work done.
Out in the slushy mess confronting some maintenance duties today, an encouraging sound found my ears: the sound of the earliest snow geese heading north. Later I noticed that the snow was receding from the land I plowed last fall in preparation for this year’s crops, and the seemingly permanent coating of ice on the driveway showed signs of weakening. And daylight savings time has returned. Think of all the daylight saved.
We’re up to about 4,000 starts in the greenhouse and have started the worry/scramble to accommodate more plants than we have room for. Sixty chicks, Rhode Island reds, California whites and Americaunas are already getting too big for the brooder. I watered greens in the high tunnel today. Greens, I proclaim, that were planted in September! 30 below? No big deal.
The horses have been getting into shape and we’ve been honing our teamster skills by driving the bobsled around the farm. It doesn’t look like there will be too much more of that. Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll get them out and break up the night’s frozen crust before the warmth of the day returns it all to slush.
A few things on the list: Rebuild small greenhouse, acquire decrepit trailer for conversion to another egg mobile, bring in the width of the tractor to match (exactly double) that of the horses, clean out the tool shed, excavate the collapsed storage shed, extract honey from the bee-less hive, mobilize the horse drawn fore cart, start a bazillion more transplants and listen to the snow geese.
We’ve passed through the heart of winter, the vernal equinox is just three weeks away, and the last moon of the winter will start its rise next weekend. It’s a good time to start a farm blog.
Despite the absurd harshness of the weather, we’ve been busy here at Riverbound Farm. It’s probably not what folks think of when they think of farming, but we’ve been busy farming our whole season on paper, or on the computer as it happens. Yes, we do spend our fair share of quality time with excel spreadsheets. But we got the organic certification paperwork submitted, educational sessions delivered, research researched, seeds ordered and plots mapped. Now we’re working on the timing of the approximately 200,000 vegetable plants we’ll be growing this season, along with a couple of hay field plantings, some grains, a couple of acres of pollinator habitat and some cover crops. It gets complicated.
Thankfully, when the glare of the laptop I can take no more, we’ve got our team of eager Belgian draft horses to harness up and take for a drive. Woo-wee! How about taking a little jog on a crisp (understatement) winter day behind a three thousand pound team of prancing beauty and power?
…You trot and they listen to the rhythm of your steps and the pulse of your hands on the lines as you set the tempo. Their ears trained on your sounds, “Let’s step it up a little, team…” A subtle pulse with your fingers, with no more force than you might use to bob a fishing lure or swoop a kite or pluck the strings of a guitar, even less, and they understand and follow. A little pulse on the left, another and now their heads have turned left and they’ve begun to turn, gradual. Another pulse, but this one held in, and they’re turning more sharply. Now you’ve let that pulse out and give just a slight pulse on the right and they straighten out. And so it goes. So it goes until you flush a pheasant in the draw. Now the mare wants to run, wild, and so the other must follow. She steps up, high, full alert, taking leaps forward, he trots to keep up. You need her to stop running. But you also need her to trust you. She needs to know you won’t panic. You’ve got to acknowledge to her that she’s been startled without being startled yourself. So you maintain pressure on the lines, but without force, not yanking, not subtle anymore either, just very assertive communication. “Whoa. Rosie, Whoa.” And she understands and agrees to stop her running and trust you for now. You take her past that spot a couple of times and she is still edgy, but begins to accept. You talk to her. “Pheasants, huh, Rosie?” She trusts, but not completely. You’re still new to her. Unproven. Later, when you’ve un-harnessed and unbridled her, she looks at you more intently, and you feel good…
And then it’s back to the books…