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.


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


Terrin, always smiling


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.


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


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.


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!!



Basil Crisis 2016


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.


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.


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.


Buh Bye Tomatoes


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.


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.


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.


Fall has arrived


Apples, cinnamon and pumpkins are on everyone’s mind, as the weather has turned cooler and the final signs of summer are coming to a swift close. (Except for this week when it is supposed to be 80 degrees Thursday… weird.) Tomatoes were the first to go and now the peppers are dwindling down and starting to not produce as much. The focus of the farm has definitely been directed to harvesting our fall crop, which keeps us very busy as we are harvesting daily. Now that the weather has turned cooler, Justin and I spend less time on farm maintenance and more time doing the actual growing. Because the days are growing shorter the plants, weeds included, are just not growing as fast. This is good and bad for us. It is great in the sense that we do not have to dedicate time to weeding and mowing but bad in the sense that we still have plants in the ground that need to get bigger.


Our fall crops that consist of green beans, kale, squash, radish, broccoli, broccoli raab and cauliflower will carry us through the end of the year, hopefully giving us that financial push to help the farm move towards profitability.


I found a purple tomatillo when I was harvesting last week. It was better than finding a prize at the bottom of a cereal box. They are slightly sweeter than regular tomatillos and are most commonly eaten raw. It was such a beautiful deep purple color in contrast to all the green. Tomatillos, what an impressive crop!!!


The chefs sent me some lovely photos of things they have created with our produce. Paige at Phi Sigma Sigma has been begging for green tomatoes since the start of the season this year so she was over the moon when I added them to the availability email last week. She made fried green tomatoes that were so yummy they could even be served at the Whistle Stop Cafe.


Kat from Pi Beta Phi sent me a picture of a sage biscuit she made from our rooftop sage. I thought this was so inventive and the biscuit looked flakey with a moist center. Well done chefs!


Short and Sweet

This will be on the shorter side today, my apologies. The farm is winding down and Friday will be the first opportunity for the chefs to purchase green tomatoes. The tomatoes that are on the plants are not ripening anymore and since the temperatures are on the cooler side I do not expect them to. Our peppers have started to slow way down as well so now we are looking towards the fall crops to bring us home for the season. We are currently harvesting kale, beets, broccoli and squash. We are still waiting for our cauliflower and broccoli raab to come on. I have one more round of lettuce in the greenhouse that will be planted this week so I hope the frost holds off until the end of October.

The basil in the hydroponic set up seems to be doing well so we are also going to move forward with planting the rest of the towers.


The chefs are continuing to amazing me with the delicious items they are sending me pictures of. Brittney from Delta Delta Delta made an amazing tomato and goat cheese tart with tomatoes from HH farm. I wish I could have been there to try it. Maybe she will share her recipe with us🙂.


I will be representing Hendrick House at a cooking demonstration at the Champaign Farmer’s Market. I will be making a fall salad compiled of kale and apples. Please come out and support your local farmers!!!


It’s a sloooow down


The chefs have been doing some fantastic things with the tomatoes. Kat at Pi Beta Phi is so great at using farm produce and cooking with the seasons. I walked into her kitchen last week on delivery and the smell was intoxicating. She had some of our poblanos and was roasting them on her stove. She has also been on a standing order for tomatoes since the beginning of the season and sent me this picture of a delicious looking caprese salad she served to her girls.


Unfortunately tomato season is coming to an end. I am super disappointed because we had a month and half less harvest than we did in 2015, which means we are way down in sales. This is entirely due to the fertilizer burn we experienced on our transplants in the spring, which caused us to scramble to replant. We didn’t get the peppers and tomatoes in the ground until end of June/ beginning of July. This is also super frustrating because this was the first year in three years that we had weather that allowed us to grow a fantastic crop. I guess if there is a bright side to this it would be that the tomatoes and peppers we did harvest were absolutely beautiful. I didn’t even see a 2nd tomato that had a scab from bacterial spot, which was a complete opposite from last year. I really really really hope that we will continue this dry hot weather for summers to come and now that I can focus all of my attention on the farm, eliminate accidents such as fertilizer burn in the future.


My poison signs must be working because we are back up in our numbers for our strawberries. I thought about setting up a lawn chair and camping out all weekend but instead made 15 trips just to make sure no one was stealing. The strawberries are really going to like the cooler weather coming up so I am anxious to see how that progresses.


Basil seems to be ok so far. Fingers crossed!!!

We are racing mother nature at this point. Our fall crops are very close to producing. I just hope the first freeze, which is typically mid October, holds out a little later this year.





Kale has been a real winner this year. Without even realizing it, kale has been the best selling crop of 2016. I think the main reason we didn’t notice kale pulling out in front is because it has been a crop that has been going since the beginning. I chose a different variety than we have planted in years past to try to avoid black rot, a disease that commonly affects red russian kale. Although I prefer red russian to curly, the variety we chose to grow this year, I am very happy with the success. This crop was planted back in May and there has been next to no disease issues and very little pest problems with occasionally spraying for cabbage looper. I have noticed that the chefs seem to prefer this variety as well. Mel from Gamma Phi Beta made some beautiful kale chips for her sorority girls last week.


There farm crew had sort of a rough week last week, mostly due to our schedule being thrown off because of rain and thunderstorms. We have been forced to grow out transplants outside due to the excessive heat in August. It was too hot for the seeds to germinate in the greenhouse. Unfortunately that opens the door for the birds to feast and they are especially fond of our lettuce. We have not had very good luck keeping up with our succession plantings of romaine this year, entirely due to birds. Incredibly frustrating. The weather has dramatically cooled down so we will try yet again but this time keep the seeded trays in the greenhouse.



The other bad news we had at the end of last week is that my grand plan to make back the hydroponic expense from the strawberries took a sour turn. Damn downy mildew struck us again. I know it is prevalent in the field but was hoping since the basil was somewhat protected in the caterpillar tunnel that it would come out unscathed. Not the case. We completely ripped out the other side of the tunnel (not planted in strawberries) that we had just set up and planted a couple weeks ago. I then ran a 10% bleach solution through the lines in attempt to sterilize the substrate. (Substrate is a fancy word for what the plants grow in…..in substitution for soil.) I also filled a backpack sprayer with the same 10% bleach solution and sprayed the rims of each beta bucket and the tunnel itself. We replanted today but only 6 towers. I would like to see if we can make it out of this nonsense without further problems. Fingers crossed.


We love visitors at the farm, especially the little ones! Justin was in charge of watering last weekend and he brought his family out to see all the hard work he has been doing the last three months. I hope this adorable little superman comes back to visit again! Maybe he can use his super powers to make our downy mildew go away!



Last week wasn’t all doom and gloom though! We did happen to see the weinermobile while we were on delivery and of course I made the boys pull over so we could get a picture!