Farm, Journal, Update

Summary of 2014

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We managed to get all the peppers pulled last Tuesday thanks to my  amazing assistant, Gauthier, for helping me. Zack, farmer for the Student Farm, lifted my plastic and we pulled it up Friday afternoon thus completing the final tear down for the 2014 growing season. I want to give a shout out to one of the AKL’s, Mario, for volunteering his time and helping me remove the last remnants of plastic and drip tape. With the powers combined (Gaunthier, Zack and Mario) it made for a quick and simple finale and I am so grateful for their help.

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1/2 acre does not seem to many like a lot of land, especially when you are surrounded by 1,000 + acres of conventional farms, but let me tell you that a lot can be done with a little ole 1/2 acre.  As a beginning farmer this is what I accomplished this year:

-Produced over 5,300 #s of produce that was redistributed back to Hendrick House

-Made over $10,000 in sales which also goes back into the company

-Touched nearly 3,000 students with fresh/ local produce grown less than a mile away

-Gained new clients and chefs who took interest in the program (which is the biggest success to me)

-The farm now sells and distributes to 4 large dorms and 10 fraternities and sororities

-I also found ways to distribute processed farm veg during the winter months so the farm continues to make money during the off season

-Doubled our sales from 2013 (we started charging competitive local pricing so I’m not sure this one counts 🙂 BUT I was able to pick up new chef’s although the prices increased from last year which makes it TOTALLY count!)

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Overall, despite the incredibly strange weather we had this year, it was a fairly successful growing season for us (when you look at the big picture). Although we didn’t make money due to labor, I have a better idea on how to cut costs and grow product that cuts down on labor with a high dollar selling price. I am getting better and better each year. After all, I’m still a beginning farmer 🙂

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None of this would be possible without the shared dream, vision and support of my boss Sue Dawson and Hendrick family. I am so grateful to them for allowing me the time to learn and produce for their company. This project is so personal for me and I am excited to be a part of it with the end goal of a sustainable vegetable farm which provides fresh produce helping to change the perceived image of institutionalized food.

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This goal cannot be obtained without the complete support of the chef’s who work for Hendrick House. Bonnie, an amazing chef, was my biggest supporter and also shares the vision of bringing farm to table to campus, taking all excess and changing her menus last minute to accommodate. Antonio PIKE was the person I could count on to take all seconds and process them down himself (which takes time away from an already busy day). Not only would he take them but I would receive a picture hours later of a fabulous dish he created from them. Jason (Armory), Rich (Presby), Casey (AGD), Nick (AoPi), Christie (GPB), David (KKG) and Ryan and Heath (Newman)  your support was greatly appreciated and this project would not work without you!!

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IMG_1666Big thanks to AKL with whom I will forever be indebted. You guys volunteered your time on several occasions and are the “proof in the pudding” so to speak that it is possible for a young group of fraternity boys to like/ love fresh vegetables. Thank you for being gracious and taking chances, trusting me and being my guinea pigs for eating food you may not be familiar with. You boys have set the standard throughout the company that this project can work! Going into my 4th year as being your chef, you don’t realize it but you have gradually raised the bar on quality and freshness of food which was the plan all along!

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I would like to give a special thanks to Kevin at Phi Delta Theta. Vegetable growing is back breaking physically demanding work and it takes special people to want to do it. Not only did you help me again all summer but you did it with a smile on your face the entire time. Thank you for all of your help and being such a great friend. Thank you for taking produce (even when you knew you didn’t want to) because you have a vested interest in the farm. Thank you for taking a chance with me and this project!

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IMG_1720Lastly, I would like to thank all of my U of I and farmer friends. Rick Weinzierl donates so much of his time to this program and it is so fantastic. I consider myself so lucky to have been a part of it and I have learned and continue to learn so much valuable information. Thanks to Mary Hosier for all of her continued support from the farm to the table :). Thank you to Zack Grant and Matt Turino at the Student Sustainable Farm. Zack, thank you for all the work you do preparing and helping the Beginning Farmers. Matt, thank you for all of your advice and forever greeting me with a gracious smile and warm hello. Jeff Kindhart, my messiah of conventional farming…. you always make me laugh and you and Julie have become such great friends. Your knowledge astounds me and I can’t thank you guys enough for all of your support and donated time to help me succeed. Michael Douglas, thank you for being such a great friend and sharing your successes and failures with me. Kenny and Bryan love you guys!! A great big thank you goes out to Jeremy Shafer as well. Jeremy has been an amazing support system and great friend. He has provided me and this project with everything from manual labor to advice to knowledge. I can’t thank you enough. (Thanks Billy for the laughs and for giving me someone to honk at every time I drive by 🙂 )

I couldn’t think of a better way to end this season by saying WE GOT LAND!!!! See you in 2015!! 🙂

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Farm, Journal, Update

End of a Season

Well I guess this is my final blog post until next season. The blog will continue but my friend Adam will be writing with Hendrick House’s current news. Thank you so much for tuning in to our little project and I hope you will keep checking for updates to see what next season has in store. I have learned so much with the Beginning Farmer’s class and have made some really great friends in the industry. I can not thank them enough for their patience and guidance.

I would personally like to thank Rick Weinzierl for taking on this fantastic program and being an amazing teacher and wonderful friend. He has offered so many opportunities to me and my company and I am forever grateful for this experience. I would like to thank Mary Hosier for her complete support for my company and my cooking. It was a huge compliment that you organized and attended farm to table dinners requesting me as your chef. I would also like to thank Jeremy Shafer and Bryan Warsaw for all of their help and guidance. These two people, along with Kenny Ehler, are some of the best people I have met in my time in Champaign. They are truly golden! Not only were they knowledgeable and willing to teach me, but they were also a lot of fun. I highly recommend getting to know these guys if you have the chance. Jeff Kindhart is a one of a kind! Absolutely hilarious, although he made fun of me A LOT :). That’s ok though…. he didn’t know what risotto was :). LOL. He is an amazing resource to have. He helped me immensely this year with my tomatoes and steaming my spinach bed to make it weed free. All of the people I have listed DONATED their time to help me, just because they wanted me to succeed. photo (3)It was an amazing feeling getting to work with these people. Finally, thank you to the Student Sustainable Farm (Zack and Matt) for loaning out your equipment and teaching me to use it. Also, thank you for allowing me to tag along and help with your harvests. There is no better way to learn than hands on!

That being said, I had my final harvest of spinach today. It was an absolutely perfect day and I was happy to be outside for a couple hours. I even had a surprise visitor show up. My good friend Phil, who owns and farms Moraine View Farms, just happened to be driving by. I was happy to see him and even talked him into helping me harvest the rest of my spinach. photo (4)The power of persuasion :). I love talking with Phil. He is so easy going and has so much insight in to organic farming. He loves to share his knowledge with me and I am always interested to hear what he has going on during the seasons at his farm.

As I say my final farewell I can’t help but reflect on some great moments of this year. There are definitely too many to count but I have to say some of the highlights were the first beautiful harvest of salad greens, the excitement of laying down raised beds with plastic (hanging off the back of the tractor), the beautiful trellising Jeff taught me how to build, working with the greatest friend (Kevin, who put up with my anal OCD ways), my tomato jungle, the beautiful green beans that my boys loved, the moment when Kevin and I knew our peppers would survive after the bout with bacterial leaf spot and of course planting my own cover crop in the big tractor. I will certainly miss the honks my friend Danny Stierwalt makes as he is driving down South Lincoln, laying on the horn in a different vehicle 15 times a day. My favorite was the honking in the combine as he turned each row across the field. (He farms for the U of I and another amazing friend I met this summer.)

I will miss the casual visits from Jeremy and Bryan, just checking to see how my day is. I will miss working 1.5 acres away from Todd, who was another incredible friend, helping me in anyway he could as we learned together through disease and insect trouble. I will also miss the visits from Rick, who was always eager to help. I learned so much from him this season. All and all this was such a valuable experience and I look forward to learning from all my mistakes as I plan for next year.

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Farm, Journal, Update

Bittersweet

photo-6If you have driven down south Lincoln in the past week you may have caught a glimpse of some funny sights. Last Tuesday I had three wonderful men volunteer their time to help me take down my heavy tomato trellising. I met Jeremy, Bryan and Kenny early that morning and they had the posts and 4×4’s out in less than an hour. The earth anchors however, were a much different story. I was reminded several times in the hour that followed that I really only needed 18″-36″ earth anchors. NOT 48″! Being the novice that I am, I did not know what a problem this would be until it came time to spin/pull/push/yank them out of the ground. Now these guys could have left after the posts and 4×4’s were out, but being the sweet farmers (with hearts of gold) that they are, they chose to finish the job and help me get those earth anchors out of the ground. It started with individuals spinning, then doubles spinning and finished with two fed up farm boys hooking the earth anchor by chain to the back of one of their pickup trucks. Come hell or high water THAT earth anchor was coming out of the ground. I don’t think I have laughed so hard in my life.
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Now that the trellising was down the next step was to do a final harvest on peppers and green beans (to clear out the remaining raised beds with plastic mulch). We harvested close to 100# of peppers and 40# of green beans. Like the tomatoes, it was bittersweet to see them come to an end, especially since they flourished despite all the bacterial leaf spot challenges. photo-4My boys absolutely loved the green beans so it was a nice way to say goodbye to that crop for the year.

After all 530 plants (not counting green beans) were ripped out I then started to remove the plastic and drip tape. Jeremy taught me about the egg roll method, which was quite impressive, although back breaking. Unfortunately, with that method your face is very close to the ground and also close to any critter that might be waiting to surprise you. I managed to finish it all and also squeeze in a 40# harvest of salad greens by Thursday of last week. It felt good to to finally be finished and ready to till.
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Guess who got to plant her own cover crop using a drill seeding implement?? Yep, this girl! This was definitely a highlight of the end of my season. THEY FINALLY TAUGHT ME TO DRIVE THE TRACTOR! 🙂photo-1 It was just as awesome as you would think it would be. I chose a rye and clover cover crop to plant and once again my sweet friends Jeremy and Bryan made time to help by tilling and allowing the use of their drill seeder. Both varieties of seed will put nutrients back in to the soil (especially nitrogen) that will help in the growing season for next year. I was a little late getting the cover crop in, but am hopeful the weather will hold out so we can get enough growth before it gets too cold.

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Farm, Hendrick House, Update

A Break From Your Regularly Scheduled Blog

I wanted to hijack the blog for a moment during all the hustle and bustle we’re all feeling from the impending beginning of classes on Monday to point out something. Ann and Kevin did some amazing work over the summer. There’s no way for me to properly put out there just how much work was done on the farm. I was out there for just a few days, and it was painful, but they were out there. A LOT.

Thank you Ann & Kevin. Thank you to everyone else who helped them. Thank you to U of I’s Student Sustainable Farms for the opportunity and the land.

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