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PEACE OUT 2016!

The farm season has officially come to an end for 2016. Justin and I pulled up the remaining plastic in the field and I broke down the hydroponic system in preparation for the farmers to shut off the water. Despite a few setbacks with the replanting of our transplants and downy mildew, this was an amazing season. The weather was finally in our favor with a hot, dry summer. Most importantly, after three years we finally secured a BADASS farm crew that will be returning in the spring. I have never had more fun at work than I did this year. The crew worked hard, were reliable and did it all with a smile and a great sense of humor.

 

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I owe a huge amount of thanks to so many people for this year’s success. Thank you to the University of Illinois Department of Crop Science for allowing us to lease land and supporting our mission. Thank you to Hendrick House and the Hendrick family for encouraging the farm and shared vision to make this dream become a reality. Thank you to the chefs for your support and menuing fresh farm food. Thank you Jeremy Shafer, Eric Kinkelear, Billy (B nizzle) Sharp, Bryan Warsaw, Michael Douglas (not the actor) and Matt Turino for your continued guidance, patience and loyal assistance throughout the year. Thank you to Rick Weinzierl and Mary Hosier for teaching me the ropes of farming and for your continued support through the years. Finally, thank you, thank you, thank you to my fabulous staff (Justin Slade, Terren Gaither and Rey Jackson) for all of your hard work and great laughs.

I will be spending the winter making new and exciting preparations for the 2017 growing season. We will be implementing season extension tools for our 3 acres and I am going to redesign the rooftop garden to increase functionality while implementing education workshops for the chefs and the community, hopefully making us eligible for grant opportunities. I have also been furiously putting together a workbook for the chefs which will serve as a field guide when they are menuing and ordering for the 2017 growing season. There are many exciting things to come in 2017 so please stay tuned!! …….Ann out

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Living on Borrowed Time

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I knew what was going to happen last weekend and dreaded looking at the crops yesterday morning. I was hoping by some miracle we could get one more week but alas, the peppers were droopy and mushy when I walked the bed. We knew some of the crops were living on borrowed time. The first real freeze of the season happened last weekend and it was sayonara. I am very happy that the season went so late and the harvest numbers for peppers blew 2015’s numbers out of the water.

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I was hoping that would be the only loss for now, that was until I saw my basil. This year, like the many years before it proved to be tough for growing basil. With downy mildew so prevalent in this area I think it is nearly impossible to grow in the field. This being my first year for hydroponics, and the crop doing so well in the beginning, I thought I had found my solution. Although the cold weather cause the immanent death, I still had a few problems toward the end. I am not giving up though!! I will do more research this winter into growing hydroponically and be sure to start my basil early in the season, as that seemed to be the prime time for success.

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Unfortunately we lost a majority of our romaine crop. Although we still beat the numbers from last year, by a lot, I would have had liked to have one final harvest. Unfortunately the crop was too small to harvest before the freeze last weekend and when I walked the bed yesterday there was a considerable amount of damage to the leaves. Although disappointing, I knew I was pushing the envelope with the last planting. The lettuce that was marketable was beautiful, lush and green.

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The farmers are draining all the lines to irrigation around the farms which means no water so the end is near. I am going to harvest the rest of my kale this week and the chefs have agreed to take the large amount and process it down to use during the winter months. I plan to get the plastic and drip tape up before the ground really freezes, which could be as early as this weekend. I have decided not to till the plot this year, to try to keep as many nutrients in the soil as possible. This will be my first year trying to make more permanent sustainable beds with the same plot plan, just rotating crops by the 1/2 acre.

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The farm is going and going and going and going and going …..

I know you loyal readers are probably sick of me talking about the warm weather and how long the season is going this year. I can’t help it! It is not only unbelievable but absolutely fantastic. Growing in the fall is the absolute best because you don’t have to worry about most of the problems you encounter in the spring, such as pests!

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I had another amazing harvest, pulling 150 lbs of just peppers! I am still harvesting bells, Carmens, poblanos, banana and jalapeño peppers. I am truly amazed at the size and quality along with the longevity. I found two extra remarkable Green Bell peppers yesterday so I had to track Justin down just to show him. They were bigger than his hands!! Poor guy can’t get away from the blog, hehe.

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Hard to see the spots in this picture but the cauliflower heads look beautiful!

I do not want to let the crazy phenomenon of the peppers over shadow the rest of the fall crops that I anticipated harvests on this late in the year. As you know from last week’s blog post our cauliflower is finally ready. It seemed like I was waiting an eternity for the plants to mature. One of the phenomenal chefs, Kat, who takes a lot of farm produce each week, asked me why some of the heads had small purple spots. This was a great question because it forced me to do a little extra research on cauliflower. Cauliflower is in the same family as cabbage, broccoli, kale etc and that is called the Brassica family. Like (red) cabbage, the coloring has to do with the amount of antioxidants in the plant. They are called anthocycanin. The crops have been getting an unordinary amount of sunlight for this time of year along with the unusually warm temperatures. The sunlight brings out more of the anthocycanin, hence the small purple coloring on the head of the crop.

We learn something new every day :)!

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Unbelievable size so I had to end the blog with another picture

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Fall crops are in full swing and so are… peppers???

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Beautiful Broccoli Raab. My favorite tasting crop of 2016

This has been a strange growing season, fortunately to our advantage. It has been unusually warm this time of year with temperatures reaching 80 on Nov. 1st?? Crazy!

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Beautiful Broccoli Crowns

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I was waiting on pins and needs for the cauliflower. It is finally here!

Our fall crops are doing very well and are loving the cold night time temperatures. They consist of broccoli, broccoli raab, cauliflower (which finally started producing), kale, squash (which made a come back with the warm days) and surprisingly enough, peppers. Broccoli and cauliflower always make me nervous because they take for-e-v-e-r to produce. Despite my impatience, when they do finally produce it is a beautiful and abundant crop that the chefs love. This is my second year growing the variety of broccoli called Gypsy. It is fairly maintenance free and you really only have to worry about cabbage looper. It produces and large crown and then you are able to harvest the off shoots  for florets. I’ve found that this is a real winner with the chefs as most students are familiar with and like eating broccoli. It is also easily cleaned and great in stir fry, which is also a very popular request from the students.

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HUGE Bell Peppers!!

Our peppers are producing more now than they did in August, which is supposed to be our peak season for peppers. With the disappointing and short tomato season for us this year, we really are doing well to make up that loss. The other farmers in the area can’t believe the abundance of peppers they are getting from their home gardens either. It’s really a true phenomenon. The plants are big and beautiful and show no signs of bacterial spot. I have not been preventative spraying copper and I have not irrigated or fertilized since our irrigation was stored for winter two weeks ago. Also, the cold nights we had last week wiped out the bug population so we are not battling that either.  I grew a new variety of bells this year called Red Knight Xr3. I saw this being grown in a research plot across from mine last year. The peppers were big and beautiful! Although I was battling bacterial spot pretty fervently in my plot last year, I saw no signs of the disease on these peppers, despite the wet cool season we were experiencing. I decided that this variety was exactly what I was looking for in a bell (being big and disease resistant) and thus grew them this year with a lot of success. They are sort of a late producer so it has been very conducive to this weather.

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So.Many.Peppers.

I am still pulling hundreds of pounds of beautiful looking produce off the farm every week. Yesterday we had 100lbs of just peppers alone. I wish every season was like this.This will be the longest growing season in the books thus far. I love it!

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Ode to the staff for a great 2016

The farm is on the downward slide for the season and the crops that are still in the ground are growing slowly, due to cooler weather and less sunlight. Since labor is the farm’s highest cost it was time for the farm staff to transition into the kitchens for the winter. Labor is one of the biggest problems we struggle with financially and physically. I have been so fortunate in previous years to have great help but that consisted of chefs who had a place to go in the fall when service started back up. This presented a problem because fall is also the busiest time of year for the farm. As the farm continues to grow it was imperative to find another full time person who was flexible during the winter months and a couple reliable part time people who could work during the busy season. It is also key to be able to retain the good help so that we don’t have to start over at the beginning of each season, which has been the case thus far. I have been in the hospitality industry for a long time and finding good help is always hard. These jobs, especially farm work, are physically demanding while being exposed to the elements; rain,  dirt, heat, bugs, humidity and eventually cold. It is definitely not for everyone. I feel incredibly lucky to have met and worked side by side with the three wonderful people who helped this year. Not only were they hardworking but they were an absolute pleasure to be around. We had a lot of laughs and it made hard work fun.

Unfortunately I do not have a picture of Rey, our part timer who got us through the busy season. We were fortunate enough to find him through another local farm called Prairie Fruits Farms. Rey was flexible with his schedule, helping us only on peak harvest days, which made him an excellent match with us. From the moment he stepped out into the field he worked hard and was up for anything. He is a phenomenal baker so he would also shower us with gifts of fresh bread and PFF cheese. We will definitely be seeing more of him next year if he is still available.

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A little of Terrin’s humor, hiding in the idea garden

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Terrin, always smiling

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The hardest I’ve ever laughed in my life when Justin and I tricked Terrin into turning on the water to wash pack. A huge geyser of water shoots you up in the face. Justin and I were laughing so hard we couldn’t answer Terrin when he kept asking if it was on yet and if he could step away. Lol, dedication! I did arm him with my raincoat before he went for it. *Note: it was 6:30 am and freezing cold

Terrin was our other part time/ full timer. He started part time for us and then switched to full time during the peak season. Terrin is Justin’s best friend (I will talk about Justin later). I hope that every business has someone like Terrin working for them. He is one of those people who is like a magnet, drawing people to him with his positive attitude and constant quick lines and jokes. He reminds you that life doesn’t have to be taken so seriously and the small stuff can be laughed off. Terrin wasn’t afraid of hard work and getting dirty, coming in at the end of the day covered in head to toe in mud and yet still smiling. He was instantly missed after his last day and I look forward to 2017 when he comes back.

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Justin found a surprise crop of carrots in our beet bed. (We didn’t grow carrots this year)🙂

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Justin mad at me for taking his picture early in the morning for the blog.🙂

I saved Justin for last because he was the key component for a successful 2016 growing season. When you work in a kitchen it is a must that you be able to flow and “dance” with your coworkers, working closely on a line together.  Although we are not in as tight of a space as a kitchen, that could be applied to working on the farm as well. Justin and I have similar philosophies when it comes to work; be dedicated, work hard and love what you do. It didn’t take long for Justin to become invested in the farm as his own and able to have vision and interest for the future. Besides being reliable and hardworking, Justin was able to anticipate all of my moves staying one step ahead of me while rocking out to Van Halen and sporting his Steelers hoodie. He was literally my right hand. At some point in the middle of the season we didn’t have to speak words to communicate because he already knew and could anticipate what I was going to say. I have only worked with a few people in my lifetime where we were able to “flow” like this and it is like finding a double yolk in an egg. It is rare and lucky. Because we were able to work like this it freed me up to focus on other areas, knowing that he would not take short cuts and do what I needed him to do the right way. Justin moved into the kitchens last Friday for winter and will be back at the farm next spring. His absence has been felt in just a few short days and he is already greatly missed.

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It’s hard to get the farmers together for anything but when I told them it was Justin’s going away party they all showed up🙂. Everyone misses him. They hate having their pictures taken which brings me a lot of joy when I do it🙂

 

Thank you Justin, Terrin and Rey for everything and making the 2016 growing season smooth, stress free and successful. I can’t wait for winter to come and go!!

 

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Basil Crisis 2016

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Well the hydro basil crisis of 2016 seems to be on the mend. It did get a little chilly in the caterpillar tunnel last week with temperatures in the evenings falling into the high 40’s. I lowered the sides all the way down and the basil seems much happier. Even with planting the rest of the towers, I still have not seen signs of downy mildew, which is a huge relief. The basil is now getting to the size where I will be able to make cuttings. If all goes well in the next couple days, we will start the harvesting process and things will be back on track.

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The strawberries have responded well to the cool temperatures and look better than ever. With the sides rolled down it adds extra theft protection so we have been seeing a rise in our numbers. The strawberries are also much sweeter than they were when they started producing in July. I have been told this is also due to cooler temperatures and size of the berry.

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Justin and I are slowly breaking down the farm. The tomatoes are completely out as well as the trellising. As we were taking out the posts we saw our hawk friend watching us, waiting for the field mice to escape from under the plastic.

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Buh Bye Tomatoes

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Justin and I stated ripping out our tomatoes last week. It is sort of a tedious process because before we can rip them out, we have to take off all of the trellising clips and cut away the vertical string. That doesn’t seem like very much when explained that way but if you figure four to six clips per plant, 90 plants per bed and 13 beds it becomes very tedious. Once all of the garbage is removed from the plant we then rip the plant out of the ground and haul it away for compost. I believe it is imperative to remove the plant from the area in order to help cut down on disease for the next growing season.

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Our fall crops are doing very well. We had a beautiful harvest Monday consisting of beets, kale, onions, green tomatoes and squash. Our peppers still look good and will hopefully continue to produce as long as the weather doesn’t start to get too cold during the day. The crop that is our biggest producer right now are our green beans. My goodness!! We are harvesting every other day pulling over 100 lbs of nice looking product a week. In years past we have really only been able to get two great looking pickings off one plant and the third being so so. This week was our third harvest from the plants and they are still going strong. This is such a great thing to see as the year is winding down.

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Our broccoli has been slowly started becoming ready. I love growing broccoli because, like the green bean, this crop is relatively easy to grow and is in high demand with the chefs.

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