Farm Blog

Thank you again for braving the blizzard to celebrate, connect with great food, and 'planting an orchard'! Just imagine all those future cherry trees (don't forget to squat:-).
I am so uplifted from all the good vibes, intentions, laughter and seeds shared and planted.

We were able to raise $850.00 in funds! This will go a long way, thank you! Additionally, with all the seeds donated today and from what I've gleaned from others, The women growers in the Sine-Saloum region will be able to plant out a couple hundred row feet/farm. In the past we've planted shared 'demonstration beds' ie since many of the farmers share space/land to grow on we've constructed seeds beds to trial different varieties, plant insectory herbs and flowers and share techniques. From there seeds are harvested and shared forward amongst the individual farmers. So in essence your generosity helped plant teaching/learning/eating/

sharing beds of veggie, herb, and flower goodness!
 

I will honor my commitment and extend the immense gratitude, generosity that was shared during the workshop with the women farmers in the following ways:

Work with NCBA CLUSA Farmer to Farmer Program to transfer funds and mail seeds.
I'll also email and share highlights, photos forward later this week in celebration of our workshop success.

I am tentatively set to travel there Nov/Dec. or January in 2016.

I also finally remembered the name of third grower group, JUBO (means widespread). If you're interested in learning more about how they got started, here's a link to an interview I did as part of my last Farmer to Farmer adventure in Senegal.

I Will keep you in the loop as the project evolves and thanks again for sharing your generous spirit!

For the chocolate lovers:
Becky Otte, who made the amazing truffles, has more of her chocolate goodness to share and is selling some of her creations just in time for Valentines. if you're interested send her an email: raonine@gmail.com

Also Here is a link to Roots Chocolate website.

For the Fruit Lovers:

I've enclosed a handout of some of the different fruits we grow at our farm as well as a flyer highlighting this season's events at the farm! We'd love to have you venture out and tour the orchard, come visit us (though not nearly as cool as the orchard poses we did during the workshop).

Thank you again for helping me transition from being a butterfly weed seed (ie wind pollinated, not knowing where or how my intentions, projects might stick) to more of an oak or cashew seeds - wherein I can deepen my awareness, provide support in the same place(s) in Senegal for the growers and in my backyard in Wisconsin:-). Here's to planting the seeds of the as yet to be imagined on and off the yoga mat! Wishing you all much abundance.

Happy Mid-winter!

Yours in hardy kiwi,
Erin


PS If you are into exploring the planting side as well as enjoying more local fruit creations, we'll be hosting a Local Fruit Tasting May 16, details on our website.

 

Avoiding the Hazards: 2018 Retrospective

I've often likened vegetable farming to golf -- each year a completely different course, unknown in its layout and length, with novel demands on one's skill-set, exhilarating to engage (inevitably) no matter how draining and demoralizing the final tee. If this comparison is apt, I can say the back nine were especially hard on us in 2018.

Farming is famous for its yearly gauntlet of perils, primarily involving the vicissitudes of weather and markets. At Hilltop, we can at least be thankful to avoid the latter since we sell primarily retail.

But Nature swings a large bat.

As growers, we hedge against calamity in whatever ways are possible – row-cover in the Spring, seven-foot deer fencing, water-catchments to bridge the droughts, obsessive mulching to hold soil-moisture and protect against pounding rains. Much of our preparation is geared toward managing the hydrologic cycle.

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A Vote with our Shovels, 2018 Fruit Results, Planting Optimism with Perennials

We harvested our last quince the other day. It held steadfast stemming from its home perched on the limb of the tree, surviving the frosts, a freeze, and even a few snowshowers earlier in October. This lovely 'love-apple' fruit marks the end of our harvest season. We have been enjoying the slow sweet ripening on the counter diffusing and seducing with hints of flowers ready to be cooked in the kitchen. When you catch a nostalgic scent of springs past, cut and simmer quince with your apples for a hearty sauce, or enjoy solo, slightly poached and drizzled with honey-invoking the spirit of Aphrodite and Venus – honoring the culinary traditions from Apicius to your Grandma's orchard, and marveling at how such an ancient fruit has been overlooked in today's kitchen. You may also be asking why quince fruit was overlooked on the fall fruit menu this season. Our harvest was minimal yet beautiful and unfortunately we did not have enough fruit to extend into fruit market shares or much for our retail quince lovers.

Not to be a fruit tease, we wanted to share how the fruit season as a whole fared and would love to hear from you! Please take a moment to let us know how we did and we will do the same

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Flowers as Self-Care and Nourishment

A Guest Blog Post I contributed to the Leek and the Carrot

Every once in a while, I get a nudge of encouragement and invitation to creative play in a flower farming industry that provides endless challenges through all the beauty. A huge thank you to Lauren Rudersdorf, the talented writer, farmer, and soil sister behind the Leek and the Carrot and Raleigh's Hillside Farm. It is an honor to be a guest blogger and share acts of beauty and flower mojo with you. And if you haven't already, her blog one to follow in all it's culinary ingenuity and farm-her authenticity. Thank you Lauren!

It must have started with plucking a daisy’s petals, in my mom’s garden.  Mindlessly chanting, “He loves, me, he loves me not,” as I plucked petals daydreaming of a crush I was too awkward to approach in my gangly teenage years. It’s interesting to note that the daisy, along with several thousand species of aster family members, usually have an uneven number of petals, so if you start with ‘(s)he loves me,” that’s probably where you will end up! Maybe the flowers seduced me, as I plucked the petal love. Regardless, the theme of love and trust has stuck with me as I love flowers and continue to learn what it means to trust in their wisdom as a flower farmer.

I have always grown flowers – in my mother’s garden, as part of my own landscapes, apartment balconies, and kitchen windowsills as I worked my way around one mountain peak to the next in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska Interior as an outdoor educator and native plant restorationist, and later returning to my Midwest roots, wherein among other adventures, I fell in love with a farmer and well, a Farmer Florist was born. When I started farming with my husband Rob at Hilltop Community Farm in 2009 flowers were always part of the field mix, work/life balance, experimentation, and soul nourishment. The last 7 years, however, I have been consciously shifting from vegetable production to fruit and flowers and this is my fourth season with a ‘formal’ flower csa program and 11th season with wedding flower work. I enjoy how flowers balance and compliment other areas and market channels for our farm including our fruit and vegetable share program.

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Orchard Music

"To listen to trees, nature's great connectors, is to learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance, and beauty," David Haskell, Song of Trees

We have been listening to, singing with, and growing fruit trees and flowers since 1993--growing and nurturing neighbors, and fruit forests throughout this 24 year time frame and would love to welcome you into the farm foray--we promise we won't make you sing and dance. We will let our fruit and flowers sing a symphony for your tables.

At the start of another season, as we wake up from the dream state of winter-- here are some of our farm's favorite music we invite you to tune into.

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FRESH Start

In the short lull between seasons that we get at the top of the year, my mind is sometimes directed toward the wider landscape in which our CSA and others operate.

Generally unseen by CSA customers are the support organizations that provide help with visibility, marketing, professional development and skill-sharing necessary to the farms which grow their food. Fair-Share, the organization that provides these services in much of southern Wisconsin, is probably familiar to eaters as the sponsor of the annual open-house at which CSA farms advertise their wares to potential clientele. In its earlier years the organization was known as MACSAC (Madison Area CSA Coalition), a group of eaters as well as farmers who came together with a mission to educate the public about sustainable farming issues in order to help kickstart the CSA movement in Madison during the early 1990s. Given the solidarity and general bon ami that exists within the community of CSA practitioners, it might seem hard to imagine that there was a brief period of schism and dissension back in the first decade of the millennium.

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Reckoning

Better late than never.

With squirrely and uncooperative weather from almost start to finish this growing season, analysis of 2017's production – like all the rest the year's work – got pushed back by several weeks. But I've finally had a chance to compile the numbers. They are rather uninspiring.

While this growing season's rains (33.05” in total) were not quite as miserable as 2016 (37.88”), they were still 40% over the historical average for the April through October period. And, as usual, the specific timing of the rains was what was most significant. While last year's deluges came almost exclusively after the middle of August, 2017's were heavily loaded toward planting season – we were already 10 inches ahead of 2016 in the short period from the start of April to the end of June.

Cold weather accompanying the rains in the critical third week of May slowed drying and made soil preparation for popcorn and peppers an ungodly slog, especially since both crops were slated for a section of the garden with heavier, more clay-ish soils.

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No Sun, No Food

We thank our subscribers for bearing with the hiatus in food-delivery during what is typically the pinnacle of vegetable production so that your farmers could go on a fishing expedition out west for a view of the “great American eclipse” (a term which slightly irritates me). The last time we missed a late-summer delivery was when Erin and I got married in 2011. Best that these interruptions are kept to a minimum if for no other reason than that they double-up the harvesting work in the adjacent weeks.

Not that you missed much.

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Of Tides, Foxtail Lilies, and Vase Life Tips

I woke up from the mystery of the night thinking of flowers and the resurrection of the morning, of tides and foxtails.

Rainwater dreams, muffled by the excitement of distant thunder (maybe Tuesday into Wednesday we will see rain?). This past week was tidal. Washed ashore from Ghana and teaching—beached at the foothills of my flower beds—I traded sand for silt loam between my toes, ripening mangoes for a hearty saskatoon set, and bright pink red hibiscus petals for equally showy peonies. No time to linger, the blossom tides are peaking.

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What does it mean to be a Farmer Florist?

While I was vending at the Reedsburg Food Fair this past March, a Heather Stanek, a fair-goers asked me, “What does it mean to be a farmer florist?” I've been ruminating on the question since. Meanwhile, the daffodils carpet the earth in sunshine, the apricot blooms burst in our orchard (please no 'ice days of May), and the peonies poke through the soil, giving me a nudge to wake up to the question and give it the attention it deserves.

A flower farmer: one who both grows flowers and designs with flowers with love and care from field to vase. Since I love doing both adding flowers to the farm flow is a natural fit.

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Tales of a Senegal Beekeeper

..for so work the honeybees, Creatures that by a rule in nature teach

The act of order to a peopled kingdom."

- William Shakespeare, Henry V 1599

“When you work with bees, they put something in your heart,”Adema Senghor, President of the Toubacouta Beekeepers Association, shared with the ~16 aspiring women beekeepers that gathered in Missirah, Senegal to wrap up our farmer to farmer training on beekeeping and plan next steps for their apiary. Adema graciously offered tips gleaned from over 25 years experience as a beekeeper in Senegal. Both he and co-founder Moussa Manne with the Toubacouta Beekeepers Association had agreed to share with the women how they got started with beekeeping as well as commit to supporting the Missirah women as mentor beekeepers. They are also the purveyors of the award winning 'Sur de Saloum' —prized honey from the mangrove blossoms and other petals sipped from native trees and cashew groves in the 'La Paletuveire' (French word for mangroves and the coastal plain forests that shape Senegal's Sine Saloum Delta).

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Tending to the Time We Take

When I first traveled to Senegal in 2012 for a farmer to farmer volunteer project, it was during the heart of the rainy season in August. The smell of ocean, fish, palm oil and traffic permeated the air as I arrived in a foot of water at the airport in Dakar.

Since then, Senegal has continued to flow into my farm life and professional journey—and the suddenness of the Saloum's riverine current combined with the predictability of tides gives me pause in considering what is in greater demand now than our attention? What during our brief time on this planet do we need to attend to most? I carried this question with me as I washed ashore in Senegal this past November, supporting a Farmer to Farmer project working with the women farmers who are just getting started with organic vegetable production in Thiangalahene Village southeast of Kaolack. Starting anything new is overwhelming. Their are myriad tasks you need to tend to, let alone the possibilities to explore for your markets. What has helped in my own farm journey is having opportunities to learn and share knowledge, resources with other farmers and eaters for perspectives and advice as well as engaging expert knowledge. This is why I am so attracted to the F2F program model and so appreciative of the opportunity to volunteer—supporting my farmer peers with insights I have learned about what to tend to when getting started.

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Prairie grass, Perseverance, Pumpkin Flower Vessels: relief, grief, and gratitude at first frost and last delivery

We had our first frost at the farm last Friday and myself (and I think farmers around Wisconsin) exhaled a collective sigh of both relief, grief, and gratitude. Relief that events at the farm will downshift to a more humane pace, grief for the passing of the squash that couldn't ripen, the dahlia blossoms that were cut short, descending into winter's decay, and gratitude for all the fullness, color, and bounty that this small corner of the world could produce such bounty!

I tried to capture all these thoughts and emotions in the last Flower CSA bouquet of the season and hope the pumpkin vase vessel will support the fall colors. A South Central Wisconsin seasonal bouquet would not be complete without integrating native prairie grasses.

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Epic Saturation or Saturation in Love - Watery Metaphors and Fluid Boundaries when it Comes to Wedding Flowers

Epic saturation or saturation in love? That is the watery metaphor swimming in my brain as I reflect on this past week's floral floodgates. Many of you know that, in addition to flower CSA bouquets, I also love floral design and styling for weddings. The two flower services are mutually supportive and I am so grateful of the many ways your commitment to supporting sustainably grown and designed flowers from our farm's fields to your vase keeps us afloat through the season, come heat and highwater.

As a farmer, I am constantly being reminded of how and where to best intervene, when to take charge of the petal paddle, when to pause and re-direct based on what's showing up in the fields, and when to just let go and ride the waves of peak season on the farm. This past week's weather was a perfect storm of heat, humidity, saturated energy and a waterfall of petals, amplified by a challenging yet beautiful wedding flower gig. Here's a brief synapsis of how the flower forecast played out. (If you want the full account, I'm happy to meet up over hard cider at the next Field Table Dinner at Touchdown Tavern or the next Woodfire Pizza Night at the Branding Iron.)

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A Look Ahead

As you can tell from looking in your share bag each week, the season so far has been unusual in its pace and general fecundity – cabbages, beets and currants have shown up weeks ahead of schedule; potatos and carrots (July 4 share) are as early as they've ever been; and virtually all remaining crops (cross your fingers) look to be vigorous and likely to produce at, or ahead of, schedule. We can thank June's heat and restrained but adequate rains for much the largesse.

One possible exception is cucumbers. Cucumber beetles – 1/4-inch long yellow- and black-striped sap-sucking insects – have descended on our little patch and begun chewing holes in the leaves. Their damage is not excessive in itself since the insects are so small. But they tend to spread viruses and other pathogens as evidenced by the yellowing and drying of a noticeable fraction of leaves even at this early stage.

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"This Quilt is Covered in Dirt...On Purpose"

Urbanized populations are losing their connection to life-supporting soil. As farmers were letting the dirt speak for itself. 

You may have re-called previous musings on Soil and last season's Unearthing a Soil Quilt Project. Well like Amish Friendship bread, we had no idea what we and the soil have started. The story continues, and we are so thankful to the National Geographic Team for featuring our soil quilt project as part The Plate blog series.

 

You can get the dirt on the latest Soil Quilt iteration, from Whitney Pipkin, read on at:

This Quilt is Covered in Dirt On Purpose.

please feel free to share on social media @NatGeoFood and @WhitneyPipkin!

 

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The Allure of Alliums, Bees, and Signs of Spring Prosperity

“O.k. Girls, hang in there just a couple more weeks until the dandelions, daffodils, alliums and saskatoon blossoms unfurl,” I relay to our honeybees. Rob and I gently place a surplus jar of maple syrup that my mother sacrificed for the bees from this year's sugar run.

“For now you will have to settle for syrup and witch hazel, the latter flashing it's discreet yellow blossoms at the forest edge,” I tell the bees. We placed the cover back on the hive and weighted it down with a few stones, to deter the skunks.

***

On our farm, Spring also means the start of another CSA season and anticipation of harvests to come. This year, I am excited to be partnering with Orange Cat Community Farm to offer flower shares—sharing CSA drop-sites and the season's blooms in the local Sauk County area. I love to share flowers and how flowers inspire me at our farm and have inspired, delighted, confounded, forgiven, and wowed us through the ages.

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Flowers on the Vegetable Farm?

Every farmer in her/his career hits the pause button and considers a re-invention. For me it's been steadfast, subtle, and soaks in a mix of the personal to planetary when it comes to optimal growth for our farm and finances. With seeding needs just around the corner, taxes due, body restored from a restful winter and farm plans in tow for the year ahead, I never knew that my farming re-invention would embrace so many F-words! I am moving away from the vegetable realm (my husband Rob's terrain) and honing in more on fruit, food forests, financial footing, and flowers. The latter, flowers, I've been marketing direct through CSA and providing wedding flowers for the past three years -slowly, mindfully This season, I am looking forward to stepping into my new role as Farmer Florist, experimenting with how to take flowers to the next good dance.

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Your Annual Food Calorie Receipt

The calendar has gone November, so it must be time to reckon the season's work. You might remember that back in August, at share #14, I got out the calculator for a preliminary estimate and was sanguine enough to predict a record year in-the-making,“north of 180 lbs per share” as I optimistically put it.

Not quite, as it turned out.

But at 163 pounds, it was the highest yield in the past four years, a full 25 lbs (18%) more by weight than last year's paltry 137.5 pounds, the lowest of the past four years.

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Falling in Love with the Love Apple...An Homage to Quince

There's a quince in the kitchen, it's plump curvaceous, cherub of a fruit, marks the start of frosty mornings at our farm in La Valle, WI. This lovely fruit marks the end of our CSA season, tucked in the last share box next to the butternnut and onions, its slow sweet ripening on the counter diffusing hints of flowers in the kitchen, reminding us of season's past. We encourage our members and fruit friends to let its presence and scent linger. Then when you catch a nostalgic scent of springs past, cut and simmer quince with your apples for a hearty sauce, or enjoy solo, slighlty poached and drizzled with honey-invoking the spirit of Aphrodite and Venus – honoring the culinary traditions from Apicius to your Grandma's orchard, and marveling at how such an ancient fruit has been overlooked in today's kitchen.

Read More