From Direct Action to Direct Seeding

Dan Graeve on his urban farm in Denver, CO.

 

It’s the week of action leading up to the 2017 People’s Climate March. Farmers are on the front lines of our changing climate, and this week they’re raising their voices. Here is one farmer’s story.

 

By Dan Graeve, True Roots Farm.

During the Democratic National Convention in 2008, I set up shop in front of the main convention center and displayed a piece of artwork about climate change. I stood in front of it juggling and rattling off statements about the need for action. Despite getting a pat on the back from Ted Koppel, I can’t be sure how impactful it was.

Like a lot of people, I spent a lot of time as a young adult speaking out against an environmentally destructive economy. Also like a lot of people, when I found a job working on an organic farm, everything changed. (more…)

Heart and Grain: Meet Mai

By Mai Nguyen

To celebrate the Vietnamese New Year, my family—aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, cousins once removed—gathers to exchange well-wishes for the year to come. I enjoy this tradition. We voice encouragement and best wishes to each person, imagining the happiest future for those we love.

The tradition is especially poignant for my family, as each year we also gather the week before New Year’s Day to commemorate the passing of my grandfather. In Buddhist Vietnamese culture, we hold a memorial for ancestors on the anniversary of their death. These memorials are occasions for us to honor the family members who have passed away. We set up an altar with their photos and favorite foods to feed their spirits—long tables filled with rice bowls, bamboo shoot soup, mushroom salad, tangerines, apples, and desserts. (more…)

National uncertainty, community hope, and pruning

By Harrison Topp, Topp Fruit

All winter I’ve been going to conferences, having potlucks, and generally reveling in the amazing farmer community we have here in Colorado. But now it’s time to start farming, which means the fun is over. Okay, that’s not true, but the rolling of the season brings us into a new cycle of long hours and hard work. Just as the buds are beginning to swell, so are the knots in my lower back and shoulders. Hello, spring.

Actually, this is the time of the year when I can’t contain my excitement for the growing season. Winter is a time of reflection and education. As a community organizer, I’ve been living my life one meeting at a time. We’ve been having great discussions about soil health and climate-smart agriculture with a broad spectrum of producers. Big operations and small ones are taking these conversations seriously and adopting practices that conserve water, build soil, and protect our environment. Most of my role models right now come from the world of traditional ag, which I think is a strong indicator of a more progressive attitude throughout agriculture. It makes me proud to be part of this industry and part of the system that sustains the people of this planet. (more…)

My climate change plan: foster community

Casey distributes CSA shares.

By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm

Last season was different. A noticeable shift. And based on what I’ve heard from other farmers, they’ve noticed it too. A term that describes what’s happening is on our tongues: climate change. It is impacting our plans for next season as well as our outlook for the future. My plans will be based on which crops I’ve seen do the best last season with an awareness of what will build towards greater overall sustainability for the farm.

Casey and Fawn

All the beans but the Dragon’s Tongue did awful last year, so this year I’ll definitely grow the Dragon’s Tongue again as well as a solid green bean like the Provider and a new variety that hails from my region—perhaps a tepary bean. These beans are accustomed to dry heat and very little water, so with an eye toward the future, it would be wise for me to start learning how to grow them. Of course, even though I have hesitations, I’ll continue to grow tomatoes. But I won’t be growing all of the same types. With the heat and drought we have been experiencing, there are definitely varieties that simply won’t work. Instead we’ll try to find tomato varieties that grow in other desert regions and see how they do here. This is the same principal behind our own seed saving—farmers in other desert regions have bred similar desirable traits into their fruit, and hopefully that will give us a leg up. (more…)

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.

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…)

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

holland_driptape_cropped

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…)

Managing water: a new farmer and a very old acequia

nery_martinez_on_tractor_cropped

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

hoyt-wedding-photo_cropped

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.

hoyt-wedding-barn_cropped

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…)