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Edison Middle School Summer STEM Camp

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One of the primary goals of Hendrick House Farms is to educate within the company and the community the importance of fresh, healthy food. As the company grows, we are acquiring unique materials to facilitate in that goal. One of the things we have at our disposable is a one acre teaching vegetable garden that includes a composting station, pizza garden and chickens. We were fortunate enough to partner with an Edison Middle School teacher, Julie Anders, to help in teaching kids about farm to table cuisine. My team and I are very good at setting things up and doing the behind the scenes labor while Julie and her group are excellent about lesson plans and communicating the message to the students in a way they are able to understand and learn from. With our combined forces we are able to host informative/ fun filled workshops at the farm.

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The second unique feature Hendrick House has built is a teaching kitchen. This is amazing on so many levels. It gives us a space to host split workshops where the kids can be on the farm for the first 1/2 of the day and then actually create something edible for the second 1/2. We will be using this space for the first time tomorrow and I am so excited for this opportunity.

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Our intern from Urbana High School, Tony, educating some students on seeding green beans!

We had our first workshop with the summer STEM camp last week. We talked about farm safety, intro to horticulture and had hands on learning stations. The children had snacks harvested from the garden and were able to correlate what they learned with final results they could eat. It was an invigorating day! It was difficult to tell if the farm team was more exhausted after pounding 300 t-posts in the blistering heat or running around with middle schoolers for a whole day :).

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I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story….. do note that Danil wanted to practice his english by helping Julie read to the kids. His posture while reading was absolutely hilarious and he was a natural! Also, Justin wanted me to mention in the blog that his sweet corn planting station was voted the best! (He had tadpoles and fresh strawberries to show off….. a little unfair if you ask me :). )

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Photo and caption courtesy of Justin Slade

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New Equipment for 2018

Having access to equipment makes life on the farm much much happier. The farm has been a very dependent operation the last several years on the University of Illinois for access and use to their equipment. This year because we are transitioning to our new acreage west of Champaign, it has made borrowing equipment even more difficult. We aren’t able to use U of I equipment off property. A lot of the time the equipment at the new farm is being used in a different location or has maintenance problems. We are very excited to be expanding but are feeling the growing pains. It’s too bad money doesn’t grow on trees :).

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With that said, we did get a couple new pieces of equipment this year that has made our lives much easier and much more efficient. The first piece of equipment, and probably the favorite so far, is an Earthway seeder. Gone are the days of scattering seed on our hands and knees, going back down the bed covering the seed with dirt, and waiting for the seed to poorly germinate. This little contraption is a labor saver!! It is made up of two wheels and a small container with different size discs, depending on seed size. The seed goes in the container and as the seeder rolls down the bed it picks up seed with the disc and drops it through the bottom, followed by a dragging chain to cover the seed with dirt and a back wheel to pack it down. It does everything for you the first pass and all the lines are straight and even without wasting a bunch of seed. This has changed the attitude at the farm. When I say we are planting it is greeted with cheers instead of moans with the imminence of formidable back pain.  I can’t wait to post the results!!

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The second piece of equipment we received this year is a flame weeder. We are doing an experiment at the east end of our plot this year, which I will talk more about next post. The flame weeder burns newly exposed weeds so when you direct seed into that bed, the seeds have a head start and you can actually tell the difference between your crop and the weeds. When using this piece of equipment I felt two things.

1. I’m about to blast off into the sky ….and

2. I hope I don’t blow up.

I did make Justin stand next to me for a good 10 minutes with a cooler of water in case something bad happened. Poor guy.

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The last, best and probably most important piece of equipment we received this year was a traveling tool box with tools! Since we are in transition, our farm truck is basically our mobile office/ storage unit, which can be tricky storing everything while transporting five people. The tool box stays in the truck at all times and now has every tool we use on a daily basis. These tools include; socket wrench set, nut drivers, screwdrivers, torx set, utility knives, storage for our harvest knives, sunscreen, bandaids and the list goes on and on. Say we are fixing irrigation at our three acre farm but had worked at our new farm the previous day. It would be very inconvenient if we had to spend 40 minutes round trip going to pick up equipment, which has happened. Also, it is inconvenient to stop what you are working on to go to another part of the U of I to borrow a tool. It’s a terrible waste of time. The tool box sits between the front seats and is such a luxury to the crew this year!

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The Importance of Record Keeping

Like years past, as soon as the plants get in the field we are scouting for pests. For the first ten minutes of everyday, the entire staff walks the farm and scouts for damage. I started doing this this year for a couple reasons.

 

  1. It teaches everyone to be aware of their surroundings at all times.

 

  1. It drives the point home that the plants are our #1 priority while at work.

 

  1. It also teaches everyone how to identify pest damage so they can be my eyes and ears while I am doing other things.

 

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So far, we have seen ten billion potato beetles that over wintered from last year. Danil doesn’t have the heart to kill them so he takes them hostage and releases them in my hands to do the dirty deed of ending their life. I am trying not to worry about the rising army but know things will get real once the little suckers start reproducing. After talking with our neighbors, Matt Turino from the U of I Student Sustainable Farm, we have decided to play it cool until they start reproducing. Then it’s game on!! Danil might have to take that day off :).

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Aside from the potato beetles we haven’t seen much damage. Justin spotted something eating the new growth of our pepper plants. After pulling off one of the leaves and doing an ole google search we quickly found our answer ……. From a previous blog post ……. Of mine ……. Highlighted on the internet. Hahahaha, this is a prime example of why it’s a good idea to keep detailed records of previous years. The damage matched perfectly and we were able to tackle the problem immediately. Pesky Cutworms!

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2018 Year of the Cat

****Please click red circle for the theme song to this post. Unfortunately you will have to go to the youtube link below to hear the full song as I am a complete idiot when it comes to technology :)****

***Please open another window and click ‘WATCH ON YOUTUBE’  in the box below***

 

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All three farm locations this year are almost all planted. I am very happy with our progress especially coming off an extended winter. The weather couldn’t be more perfect for the staff. We are as comfortable as can be expected on our hands in knees planting. The weather has been in the low 80’s, cloudy with a slight breeze. Perfection! We also had beautiful plants to work with! Our friends at PSL took great care of our plants as they were germinating in the greenhouse. They were by far the best they have ever looked going into the field.

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I would like to introduce the staff of 2018! These amazing people will be seeding, planting, weeding, trellising, irrigation maintenance, overall plot maintenance of all three sites and working on community outreach with Champaign/ Urbana’s youth!

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This is Kat, but she is fondly known to us as Kitty Kat. Kitty is a trained chef and helping us out during the summer when U of I is not in session. Normally you can find her throughout the school year at Pi Beta Phi cooking with our farm produce. She was the largest greek purchaser of farm produce last year. I am so pumped to have another farm to table chef passionate about food!  Like a true chef she hates having her picture taken. You can see the progression I had to go through to her to smile :).

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Danil hails from Cuba. He is a returning gem from last year. A photographer by trade, he loves being in the dirt, asking questions and learning as much as he can from his surroundings. His attention to detail is unprecedented. Taking everything by its literal meaning, he makes us laugh constantly! Also not liking his picture taken, he was yelling at me but I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, lol.

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Justin, my assistant farmer, is also back this year. He gives the literal term to “right hand man”. Justin is always in step with me and can predict my next move. It is really nice having a returning veteran who knows the ropes and can help me in leading our other team members.

We have had a great start and it is going to be a phenomenal year! Our motto: check your catatude at the door! (Shout out to a random bumper sticker and kitty for that inspiration.)

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Welcome 2018!!!

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……..And we are off!!! This is after the longest winter ever. We had freezing temperatures all the way until mid April. I can’t tell you how happy I am that the sun is shining and there is finally color on the ground.

Not all was doom and gloom this winter. I am very excited to announce that Hendrick House Farm is moving to 10 acres located west of Champaign starting next year. We couldn’t be more excited, although we will be sad leaving our U of I friends. We are slowly starting the transition this year and have started working with a Unit 4 school teacher, by the name of Julie, on a one acre educational plot for students. This piece of land is just south of where we will be farming in the future. The land around our new farm is run by an old high school friend of mine. Everyone is likeminded in the sense that we want to be good stewards to the land and it is a incredibly happy, peaceful environment!

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Despite the long winter I have been keeping busy with planning 2018, attending conferences and even hosting our first workshop with Urbana High School and Edison Middle School. It was a great success and we got a lot of work done on the educational plots despite the sub zero temperatures! The kids were freezing, wrapped in multiple blankets but were still able to have fun, play with the chickens and get the garden ready to plant.

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In addition to Illinois Speciality Crops Conference that I attend every year, I also went to MOSES and Our Farms Our Future Conference. MOSES is the largest organic conference in the country located in the beautiful city of LaCrosse, Wi. Although a little intimidating, I was able to attend informative lectures and acquire amazing resources to help in increasing our sustainability efforts in the future. The Our Farms Our Future Conference was my favorite of the year. It was hosted by SARE and I was there with other SARE grant awardees presenting our grants. The conference was full of Extension Educators (my favorite people) from all over the country. I love Extension Educators because they are an endless resource always helping local farmers. It’s very important to research and network in the off season so you learn from mistakes the previous year and develop a support system to help you in the future!!

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Winter is Coming

“Winter is Coming” – motto of House Stark.

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Winter is coming, at least I thought so. The farm had heavy frost while I was pulling up plastic and now temperatures are back up into the 60’s. The farm is finished for the year and I have had time to reflect on 2017 growing season. We had a lot of successes and failures, similar to previous years. One of the biggest lessons we learned this year was that having a successful growing season doesn’t mean success all around. We had such a great year for tomatoes that we ran out of harvest containers, packaging supplies and storage areas. We did not have the time, space or equipment to process the 8,000 pound of tomatoes we hauled in over a span of four weeks :). This was a good problem but a problem none the less. The situation with the tomatoes caused me to reflect on the original plan for the farm. Are we even able to process excess food coming off the farm to store and redistribute during the winter months? I would say the answer right now would be no. I didn’t realize this until we had a year that was so successful we couldn’t handle what was coming off the farm. Should I plant less tomatoes and focus on storage crops? Are we going to have another weather friendly year next year where if I planted less tomatoes we would still be able to meet demand and maintain that high dollar value?

Tomatoes aren’t the only things in question as I am pretty sure none of the chefs want to see another Japanese eggplant ever again. 🙂

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All in all it was another great season. We grew a lot of vegetables, completed the first year of our SARE grant, met some new friends through The DREEAM House and participated in great events with our friends at The Land Connection, The Stewardship Alliance and SARE. I look forward to conference season, learning valuable techniques and chatting with old friends about their 2017 successes and failures.

I can’t thank the University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences enough for this amazing opportunity by letting us lease land. Thank you to Jeremy Shafer for all that you do for us year after year. Thank you Matt Turino for allowing us to share your space and use your wash/ pack facility. Mary Hosier, you are such a great friend. You provide endless support and guidance, thank you. Thank you to The Land Connection for supporting us by sharing our story. I admire what you do for local farmers and the community. Thank you to SARE for providing us a grant to educate and spread the word about the importance of local food and seasonal cooking. Thank you to the chefs for supporting the farm with a special shout out to Jon Curtis, Kitty Kat Szymanski and Paige Pokorny for always saying yes even when you don’t want 20lbs of kale twice a week. Finally, thank you to the Hendrick family for supporting sustainability and making this opportunity possible!

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The Pros and Cons of Plasticulture

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The term plasticulture refers to the practice of using plastic materials in agricultural applications. – en.m.wikipedia.org

We use plastic to cover our bed tops for the majority of the farm. The plastic is laid in the spring and is buried about 4-6 inches on either side of the bed. It is a phenomenal way to control weeds around the plants, cutting down labor and increasing the overall health of the plant itself. It is important to control weeds specifically around the base of the plant to prevent disease and so the weeds do not out compete the plant for space and nutrients.

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While there are many advantages to using plastic there are also many disadvantages.  When lifting and removing plastic at the end of the year it is nearly impossible to remove it in its entirety. The plastic can easily rip causing pollution/ trash in the field, which is bad for the environment. That ripped plastic can also get into mowers and tractors causing mechanical problems. It is a lot of work taking the plastic out of the field at the end of the year, especially when the ground has already frozen.

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There is research being done on biodegradable materials to replace plastic but unfortunately they are still out of most small farmer’s price range.

I am going to rethink the amount of plastic we use in the field next year so that we can be better stewards to the environment while also using different organic methods for weed control.

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