Farming is an art of adaptation

Tyler and Kendra on a warm day last summer. Photo by Eva Verbeeck

By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm

On the whole, I would consider this past year a success. We expanded our market reach tremendously, turned a little bit of a profit overall, made it through our on-farm wedding, and had fun pretty much the entire time. We are looking forward to another productive and fruitful season in 2017.

Currently we are having one of the best winters on record as far as water is concerned. Our overall snowpack in the Mancos area has been hovering between 150-200 percent of average all winter, which has been a true blessing. The tremendous amount of moisture has made for some excellent skiing at higher elevations, and we anticipate full reservoirs this summer.

Yet, all of this water has also come with challenges. This has been one of the warmest winters on the books for our area, which means that most of our precipitation has come as rain instead of snow. That means endless “mud season.” In a typical winter, we would not be able to see the ground until late March, and we would be making endless ski-skin laps on our hill in the back forty. Not this year. We have had multiple rain events, even in the high country, which is antithetical to the definition of our continental snowpack. We’ve been doing lots of trench digging for water diversion and less on-farm skiing this winter.

Farming is an art of constant adaptation. Farmers have to continually adapt and evolve with changing environmental conditions, markets, consumer demands, rules and regulations. This will be our focus in the upcoming season. We will be changing the directional layout of our gardens (from predominantly north-south rows to east-west) in order to better harvest sunlight, as well as to allow for better drainage. We are slightly modifying the crops at our market stand to follow consumer demand and capitalize on niche products: more snap and snow peas, eggs, greens, onions, and cucumbers, and fewer tomatoes, peppers, and corn. Our property is just too cold to produce some crops well, so we will focus on what grows best. We will also be redesigning our drip system to create more sustained pressure and to better harness our limited amount of water and more efficiently water our crops.

The event space after a winter snow.

We will also be delving into the world of agritourism. Our wedding this summer was a test run for our new event center. We always believed that weddings were a giant waste of money, so we invested most of our wedding funds into our future by building a beautiful space for people to celebrate their own special events in a farm setting. I had a great conversation with a brilliant farmer friend a while back about how we (as farmers) can sell not only an agricultural product but also an aesthetic and a lifestyle. From the market stand to the fields, people are yearning for experiences outside of the city and outside of their comfort zone—dirt and farm smells included. We are keen to heed that call.

In order to adapt, we focus on diversification at Green Table Farm. Diversity in crops, practices, and growing zones on the farm enables us to maximize our space and take advantage of environmental factors. Aside from diversification, we are continually honing our snow dance because water is what really keeps our world turning.

 

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About this series: This year, four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico have been blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve put together a short glossary at the bottom of this blog post.

NYFC Statement on Immigration Enforcement

The National Young Farmers Coalition is led by, and centered on, the needs and priorities of the next generation of farmers in America.

We aim to be inclusive of all of our nation’s farmers and ranchers–that includes both owner-operators and all hired farmworkers, farm managers, migrant workers, guest workers, and apprentices. We are all farmers.

Immigrants are critically important to agriculture in the United States. Current estimates indicate that over three-quarters of farmworkers in the U.S. are foreign born, and nearly half are undocumented. In short, although immigrant farmers and ranchers may not be as visible, they are the majority of the agricultural workforce, and are vital to our agricultural economy and food system. But most importantly, it is essential that we uphold American values and ensure that the rights of immigrant farmers are protected, and that they have the opportunity to pursue good livelihoods for themselves and their families.

For these reasons, Congress and the President must fix our broken immigration system with a comprehensive reform package that protects all workers, provides a legal pathway to citizenship, and creates a guestworker program that ensures an adequate and highly-skilled agricultural workforce. We strongly and unequivocally oppose any immigration policies, actions, and orders that prioritize enforcement, deportation, and intimidation of undocumented families and communities of color. Such an approach is detrimental to the agricultural economy and puts the future of the U.S. food system at risk. More importantly, it violates basic human rights and compromises the core values of America, a nation built on the premise of inclusivity and refuge.

NYFC encourages its members and supporters to prepare for increased ICE enforcement activity by reviewing these documents from the National Immigration Law Center: “How to Be Prepared for an Immigration Raid” / “Como prepararse para una redada de inmigración

Young Farmer Success Act Reintroduced in Congress

A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives took action to address our urgent national need for more young farmers by reintroducing the Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060).  

The National Young Farmers Coalition first worked with members of Congress in 2015 to tackle one of the greatest barriers to young farmer success: student loan debt. The Young Farmer Success Act was introduced in October 2015 and today, that bill was reintroduced with key bipartisan support.

As an entire generation of farmers nears retirement, and with nearly two-thirds of our nation’s working farmland expected to change hands in the next two decades, our entire agricultural economy and food supply are at stake. Providing a viable path for young entrepreneurs to apply their energy and grit toward feeding their communities must become a national priority. And with a new Congress and a new President, now is the time to act.

“America needs a new generation of farmers, now more than ever,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), one of the bill’s lead sponsors. “The number of new farmers entering the field of agriculture has dropped by 20 percent, while the average farmer age has risen above 58-years-old. We must invest in the next generation of farmers, and do it now.” (more…)

To save water, first save soil and heirloom plants

By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm

In August we had our first big monsoon of the summer, which was a blessing because we had not seen any precipitation for nearly a month. Our first few storms of the monsoon season in the Southwest can be incredibly violent, quick moving, and drop lots of water on the sunbaked soil. During this first storm, we received just under 1.5 inches of water in about an hour, which is a perfect recipe for erosion, flash flooding, and general water deluge.

When I went outside to survey our property after the storm, I noticed quite a bit of erosion around drainpipes, along roadways, and at the high mark on our creek, but the soil in our fields looked great. There was hardly any runoff. For three seasons now we have been adding compost and other high-carbon materials (leaves, wood chips, straw) to our soil as well as rotating our animals, cover cropping, and mulching. The benefits of adding organic matter can be seen, smelled, and probably even tasted, if you wanted to go that far.

Since increasing a field’s organic matter increases its water carrying capacity, incorporating more organic matter will be beneficial for our irrigation practices. The more our soils can bank water during these heavy precipitation events, the less we will have to irrigate later when things dry out. We can lose about 1/4-inch of water from our soil every day that the sun shines, which is why the less water we have running off our fields, the better. (more…)

Take the National Young Farmer Survey

Through our first national survey in 2011, young farmers and ranchers came together to tell the nation—citizens, advocates, and policy makers—who they were and what they needed in order to succeed. The results from that survey inspired new programs and influenced policies in every state. Now we have the opportunity to speak up again.

Help us tell Congress that #FarmersCount by taking the 2017 National Young Farmer Survey:

Your participation will help us understand and elevate the issues that matter most to young farmers. It is crucial that the survey results represent all young farmers and aspiring farmers, no matter where they live or what they grow.

Here are a few things you should know about the survey:

  • All personal data is completely confidential.
  • The survey only happens every five years.
  • NYFC is partnering with George Washington University and former US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Kathleen Merrigan on survey design and analysis.
  • Esta encuesta está disponible en español.
  • Taking the survey is one of the most important things you can do to advance our movement.  

To show our appreciation for your time, survey takers who provide their mailing address will receive a bundle of coupons from our partners, including Harney & Sons, Chobani, and Kashi. Coupons are optional and offered while supplies last.

Help us tell Congress that young #FarmersCount – take the survey today!

I need more information: Balancing rain and irrigation

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By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm

The monsoons finally arrived in August. They were more than a month later than usual, but I am grateful for them all the same. It was apparent that everything growing in our fields was equally grateful for the reprieve from the oppressive summer heat. For the first time in almost two months, the temperature was consistently under 100 degrees for longer than a week. All of our crops were much greener and had a certain vibrancy they lacked back when they were just fighting to stay alive. The outdoor tomatoes finally set fruit and rapidly increased in height. The sweet potatoes grew lush and quintupled in size.

Unfortunately, the weeds loved the rain, too, and grew at an even faster pace. There were more insects buzzing about, there was an unfamiliar humidity in the air, and the farm had a beautiful tranquility in the early morning before the rest of the city had woken up. Even though a main city road is just a few dozen feet away from our okra patch, standing there made me feel like I was transported back to a time before automobiles. The full bounty of the season had finally arrived.

holland_harvesting_croppedThe rain always throws an interesting conundrum into planning our water use on the farm. To water or not to water? Every time we get rain, it allows us to pull less from the well. But how much less well water should we use? We always go back and forth, depending on data from the weather service, about how much rain we received versus how much we can expect to receive in the coming days. Sometimes a rain is deep and soaks in enough that it can get us through a few days without needing supplementary irrigation. Other rains just sprinkle the fields and only make the plants thirsty for more.

Based on the research I have been doing, most of our vegetable crops demand about two inches of water a week in order to survive. If it’s windy or extremely hot, like it tends to be out here in New Mexico, that amount can increase to almost three inches. But how many inches did we actually get in that last rainstorm? How many inches of water per hour does our drip line deliver to the crops? (more…)

Join NYFC — “My membership saved me $600+”

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I own Sugar House Creamery, I’m one of the founders of the Adirondacks Farmers Coalition, and I’m a member of NYFC.

When my husband and I bought our land, it hadn’t been farmed in about 50 years. The fields were lying fallow and little trees were coming up in the pasture. The realtor who showed it to us was trying to sell it as a housing development site—“you could put five houses here,” she said. I love knowing that we saved it from that fate.

margot_tank_cropped2Saving the farm meant making big investments to repair and improve most of the infrastructure, like adding a modern milk tank to our barn, which hadn’t been used for milking since the 1920s. Our budget was tight, and we weren’t sure if we could afford new equipment. That’s when we remembered our NYFC membership discounts

As NYFC members, we save 5–40% when we shop at more than 20 farm and garden suppliers. We can save on things like seeds, tools and even work boots. Our 10% discount with Bob-White Systems ended up saving us more than $600 on our shiny, new milk storage tank!

Saving money was a big deal to us, but it isn’t why we joined NYFC. We are members because we like being part of a nationally organized group of young farmers and tapping into that energy and knowledge. When you are a tiny little farm in an isolated area by yourself, it really helps to know there are other people out there like you, and you’re all in it together.

We saved one farm from development; NYFC is fighting every day to save thousands of farms by advocating for policies that support young farmers and preserve farmland for the next generation.

I’m proud to call myself a member, and I hope you’ll join, too.

NYFC’s 2nd National Leadership Convergence

photo-4-group-5x7More than 60 young farmer leaders from 26 states gathered in Encinitas, CA in November for our 2nd annual National Leadership Convergence. From rural mid-Missouri to urban New Orleans, our chapters provide a platform for young farmers and ranchers to tackle the challenges they face building careers in agriculture. The Convergence is an annual celebration of the young farmer leaders who go above and beyond in their communities, fighting isolation and barriers to success through grassroots network building and policy change. 

For three days this November, our leaders learned critical organizing and advocacy principles, shared best practices from their home chapters, and built relationships with like-minded farmers. Chapter leaders left the Convergence feeling more connected to the national coalition, equipped with new skills, and energized to grow their chapters’ capacity to make change.
convergence_2

“My motivation to organize has never been greater,” said Matt Coffay, co-leader of the Western North Carolina Young Farmers Coalition and farmer at Second Spring Market Garden. “I plan to redouble my efforts with the WNC chapter and start looking at state level policy alongside the Farm Bill as we move forward over the next year.” (more…)

Managing water: a new farmer and a very old acequia

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A conversation with Nery Martinez, Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses

Nery Martinez, who is originally from Guatemala, has been farming with his uncle, Don Bustos, at Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses in Española, New Mexico for more than five years. Nery is one of four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico who are blogging for NYFC about their experiences with water access. You can read Nery’s first post here.

How does irrigation water reach your farm?
Here in New Mexico we have a system of ditches or channels called an acequias. It’s a system—a really, really old system—that allows people to get irrigation water on their land. Don’s family has been farming here for over 400 years, and the acequias were already here when they started. Acequias don’t run in a straight line, they go through towns and communities. It’s like a little river. Our acequia is made of dirt, but there are some places that have a little bit of concrete because the dirt isn’t strong enough to retain the water.

Acequias are unique—you share water?
Yes. We share water. There is a community. It’s pretty cool. That’s how people stay connected, through their acequias. When there is enough water, I don’t hear about people fighting over water. But when there is limited water, a neighbor might tell you if you use too much water or ask you to share more.

Where is your water coming from?
Our water comes form the Santa Cruz River here in Española. It’s probably less than 10 miles away. But the river water starts out as snow in the mountains, and it goes into a reservoir before flowing into the river and then into our acequia. (more…)

Farm disasters wait for no man … or wedding

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By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm

As I sit down to finally write this blog entry, I must confess that it is at least a couple weeks late, but for good reason! Late last month, Kendra and I tied the knot in front of about 200 people who gathered on our farm from all over the country. We fed them food we raised ourselves and entertained them in our new barn, complete with a bar and stage.

A word to aspiring or current farmers (who likely already know this): Do NOT host large events like this during your busy season! Just don’t. Needless to say the last couple of months have been eaten up with wedding preparation and building projects, leaving me very little time to think about big-picture problems with water in the Western U.S, let alone my own garden.

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The only water problems that I could think about were those that needed to be addressed in order to keep my farm from falling apart during the multi-week madness of the wedding. And there were plenty  of problems. One of my newest family members drove over an irrigation riser on accident, which destroyed it. On top of that, the baby goats were very poorly behaved in their pasture, which led to them to escape and treat an outflow valve like a jungle gym, destroying that as well. In the middle of the wedding milieu, these problems were very low on my list of concerns, but they had to be dealt with in order to keep the farm functioning. (more…)