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A New Season

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Hard to believe it’s already April 15th but as an old friend used to say: “time flies when you’re alive.” As each new season approaches we pull out the previous years’ logs and begin making plans for the upcoming year. As the daylight hours lengthen our bodies and minds go through a similar transition. One thing that happens when you spend most of your life outdoors is a true connection to the circadian rhythm – our energy level and optimism truly increase with every minute of extra daylight. It is this optimism that becomes are closest, most trusted ally for the next 9 months.

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This year, so far, we’ve been just as busy as any other. We’ve added 600 linear feet of fencing around our greenhouses to keep the deer out and our tomatoes, peppers and starts in! As many of you know, we’ve had increased deer pressure on the farm over the past 3 seasons. What started as me (Matt) chasing them around on my tractor and throwing rocks at them has progressed to fencing (a much more effective and less stressful measure I might add). In our main fields – where we do the growing of vegetables – we’ll continue using an electric fencing setup. We use a handy solar powered unit that delivers electric jolts via a hotwire tape attached to t-posts. This seems to be an effective way of deterring the deer and is more feasible considering we can remove it at the end of the growing season – living in a floodplain means the less permanent the fencing the better. You can imagine how much debris can get caught in a fence line during a high water event.

As of this writing we have 6000 row feet of vegetables planted, which includes:

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, napa cabbage, pac choi, chard, lettuce, scallions, beets, carrots and fennel (and probably a few things I’m missing)

Again we’ve had some great weather from February to date with plenty of dry days to work the soil, transplant and direct seed – subsequently we seem to get the rain when we need it too. Before the end of April we’ll get our tomatoes in the ground and seed our summer squash, cucumbers and winter squash and also continue with our rotations of the items mentioned above.

As we head into another season I’ll leave you with a quote from Wendell Berry’s ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front’

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

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CSA Program IS NOW FULL – WE ARE NO LONGER ACCEPTING MEMBERS FOR THE 2017 SEASON

2017 will be our 9th season offering a CSA share. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and is a great way to support us directly! All of the food you receive throughout the season is grown right here on our farm – we do not supplement items from other farms or wholesale markets.

This years CSA session is 15 weeks long beginning June 21 and ending September 27. As with past seasons the CSA boxes will be available every Wednesday throughout the session. The total cost for all 15 weeks is $450, which averages to $30 worth of vegetables each week. Your weekly box should work well for 2 predominantly vegetarian eaters or 2 adults and 2 children who include fresh vegetables w/ meals.

We are only offering pickup at the farm in Carnation.

We understand that folks who wish to support us have different financial situations so we are again offering options. If you’d like to signup via credit card, please use the PayPal option on the right side of the page. You can choose to pay the full amount or choose the 1/2 payment method. Your first 1/2 payment must be received by June 15th and your second 1/2 payment must be received by July 15th. Regardless of your payment method we will NOT BE ACCEPTING NEW MEMBERS AFTER JUNE 1st – we do not allow folks to join once the season has started due to limitations on how many boxes we can prepare each week.

A Farmers Perspective

While academia, NGO’s, non-profits, et al. debate whether Organic or GMO will ‘feed the world’ the farmers and ranchers producing that food must cope with the reality of economic viability on a daily basis. If you believe that organic prices are too high, you don’t understand the economics of farming. And if you believe that ‘conventional’ or non-organic food production is not as valuable, you don’t understand the economics of an industrial food system.

Food is way too cheap – all food – regardless of which certifications do or do not exist. Think of how many people have lived in an area where food is always available and always cheap – regardless of the ecological or nutritional value. We are now 3 or more generations into a food system where you can purchase a meal for under $5 – think beyond the health and economic impacts of this, and try to empathize for a moment with the women and men producing these products. How much do you think a farmer/rancher makes per bunch, per bushel, per pound? If you can walk into an establishment and pay 99 cents for a hamburger…you can see where I’m going with this…

We grow food on 2.5 acres each season. We direct market via CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and farmers market. We make about $4.25/hr – and that’s selling at retail or market prices in a local-friendly market area: Seattle. All of our neighboring farms also engage in direct market sales and range in size from 2.5 to 200 acres – we are all struggling, to some extent, even in what many would consider a ‘top-tier’ market area. This is the reality of farming.

Why? Economics. We can’t increase our prices to reflect the realities of inflation because our customers already think market prices are too high. An example in Seattle: heirloom tomatoes have been $5/lb for 10 + years, meanwhile our costs have increased exponentially (I can go down the line of item like this from A to Z) Farmers/ranchers are no more immune to economic instability than our suburban counterparts. So while our farm inputs increase year after year (seeds, soil, fuel, fertilizer, etc.) our hands are tied – we can’t increase our prices to cover these costs. If you’re a farmer’s market shopper or CSA supporter think of this next time you shake your head as the prices your paying. Meanwhile, walk into your local grocery store or purchase wholesale and you see why small-scale is struggling. We cannot compete in an industrial food market. Think Earl Butz “get big or get out” – this is not some oft-uttered mantra that has little or no meaning. This philosophy is exactly why we’re having the discussion of how to ‘feed the world’. There is only one way to make a living selling at wholesale prices and that is to ‘get big’. We are in a market/economy of scale more so than ever in the world of agriculture. Our profit margins are as thin as the row cover we use to keep pests off our produce. Now we’re being asked to conform to an industrial scale that many of us couldn’t achieve even if we wanted to. You cannot expect local farmer’s to produce on a global scale AND also expect that local food to compete on price – it’s asking the impossible.

What we farmers and ranchers need is a different approach to the local food systems. We need innovative ideas to help us on the production side of things. What about food districts? Are you willing to pay a small levy each year to support the benefits that come with keeping food local? Are you willing to pay a little more for the open space maintained by farmers and ranchers – don’t forget folks, in many cases we ARE the buffers between deforestation, development and loss of habitat. We need cities and municipalities to offer vouchers to employees to purchase local foods. We need tax breaks for businesses that support local producers (for every $1 you spend on local food you get a property tax break of ‘x’ – etc.…) And if you believe in ending food deserts and bringing equality to those that need it – you’ll need a subsidy. The last thing we need is to create more welfare recipients: farmers – which is what we’ll have if we continue to devalue food. Think of our basic necessities: food, water, shelter. Isn’t it time our society places more value on food and nutrition than on reality television and video games? We’ve become numb to the incredible amount of work it takes to produce food – whether it’s a kernel of corn or a side of beef.

Many large cities and suburban areas want to support local producers, however, they are assuming we can produce that food at wholesale, or below, pricing. This is simply not a viable option and everyone needs to here it. If you want to support local producers you (the consumer) must demand that ALL farmers get paid more for his/her product. By demonizing or marginalizing hard working farmers/ranchers because they don’t conform to your philosophical predisposition, you are further consolidating an already limited production base. The recent Ag Census data tell us what we already know: very few farms produce the vast majority of food in the U.S. and abroad while the majority are family-owned, small operations. These are people struggling every day to compete on a global level, at a local scale. Agriculture is being drowned out by all the excessive noise being created by political battles. Every food company is selling propaganda – regardless of the environmental impacts – it’s up to you to demand an equitable food system for ALL producers…it’s the least you can do.

Spring on the Farm

We have now begun our 8th season of growing food. As the weather slowly begins to warm, here in the Pacific Northwest, our body and mind begin to awaken. Even though we’ve lived through many spring seasons, the newness that occurs each year continues to fill us with hope and potential. Along with potential, patience and hope represent the roots that take hold of a farmer and provide her/him the philosophical stamina required to make it through an entire growing season. Although the physical aspect of operating a small-scale farm is formidable, mental stress is often the most prevalent factor as each day begins. Everything we do is at the mercy of something completely out of our control: nature. It is this unknown that makes each day an unrelenting struggle and gratifying achievement – there’s always tomorrow is more than a mantra, it is the truth that feeds our passion for growing food.

With each new season our ‘rites of spring passage’ become more rewarding, never to be taken for granted. There are six events that mark the beginning of each spring here on our farm. Without fail, each season I begin looking hard at my surroundings awaiting the returns of chorus frogs, tree swallows, barn swallows, goldfinch, osprey and the rufous hummingbird. As each of these amazing creatures let me know they’ve arrived I studiously, and with great excitement, log each event and compare to the previous seasons. Here are this years ‘rites of spring passage’:

Chorus Frogs 1/25

Tree Swallows 2/28/4

Rufous Hummingbird 2/27

Osprey TBD

Goldfinch TBD

Barn Swallows 3/30

While these events will certainly go unnoticed by many people, to us this marks the very beginning of what lies ahead. These creatures provide us with much more than a reason to note their arrival, they tell us that anything is possible, if you make the effort. They tell us to get motivated, get moving, and get our hands in the soil. This symbiotic relationship means everything when you take the time to notice – there’s much more to a farm than simply growing food, and we are thankful for this.

Reducing SNAP Benefits Hurts Everyone

When SNAP benefits are cut the impact is felt from the bottom up. In addition to hurting those most in need of assistance, cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are also felt by many small business owners like us. Each week we sell our produce, like many other farmers across the country, directly to consumers via a local farmers market. When SNAP benefits are reduced, you decrease the ability for recipients to purchase fresh produce from farmers that accept food stamp payments – you’ve now made it more difficult for SNAP recipients to consume the good calories every person needs and you’ve also hit your local farmers by further limiting spending at the market.

While the GOP continues to focus on the very small portion of SNAP recipients abusing the system, the rest of us – including the majority of recipients that need this benefit to survive – continue to suffer due to the systemic indifference within the party. Cutting benefits to the most vulnerable is unacceptable – hunger is not a political albatross it is a real world problem that requires a basic level of empathy, and currently many in the Republican party are lacking this most basic of human emotions.

• 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits
• SNAP households have gross income at or below 75% of the poverty guideline ($14,648 for a family of 3 in 2013)
• SNAP has an accuracy rate of 96.2%…and is considerably higher than other major benefit programs…

(http://feedingamerica.org/how-we-fight-hunger/programs-and-services/public-assistance-programs/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/snap-myths-realities.aspx)

These are just some of the facts that support the idea that we cannot simply turn our back on people that need help. This program is not the reckless sieve GOP members continue to discredit while simultaneously allowing massive crop subsidies to continue with each Farm Bill passage.

We urge you to contact your House Representative and demand that full SNAP funding be included with the passage of any new Farm Bill – there are simply too many people that stand to lose from a decrease in benefits

Community First

What if the U.S. government had a plan for both our farm worker shortage, and massive financial handouts for producing – or not producing in some cases – millions of acres for bio-fuels and animal feed? The U.S. has spent $277.3 billion in subsidies from 1995-2011 of that, $172.3 billion has been for commodity crops – corn, soy, etc. What if some of that subsidy money was dedicated to fixing this seemingly endless cycle of land degradation and handouts?

While our bureaucrats have been funneling money to encourage farmers to grow anything but food for our growing population, we have millions of Americans living in a chronic state of food insecurity – Ag Secretary Vilsack has addressed this via the “StrikeForce” initiative. Add to this a labor shortage in the Agriculture world, along with our current debacle regarding immigration reform, and what we have is a highly inefficient system for producing the food and fiber our country needs.

The current situation has created the perfect storm for agricultural reformation. Why not move some of these subsidies to a more sustainable food-for-people system? This would not only encourage better land stewardship, but also create more jobs – and more small-business owners as a result. If a farmer is currently rotating crops between corn and soy, and say they have 1,000 acres in production; why not encourage that farmer to half the commodity production and begin growing a diversified vegetable operation? But how can we grow that much food – without the labor needed to promote an organic model – unless we rely on chemicals and GMO? One option, you now begin to hire back the labor we’ve lost due to the incompetence of our federal leaders to enact meaningful immigration reform. In this way, we can alleviate the current farm worker shortage and begin to reintegrate many of the folks that have been a contributing part of our country for decades. If the issue for some farmers to switch to Organic methods is lack of labor, the answer is right in front of us. The benefits to the soil and economy should be in our best interest, however, we need to change the way we run our Agricultural productivity to achieve the best outcome. This means immigration reform must be part of the conversation.

If we can slowly begin to change the philosophy around farming , the benefits to our physical and mental health, environment, and economy, will create a more robust business model to encourage future farmers. We must stop asking “how do we feed the world?” and begin asking ‘how do we feed our community?” Imagine more farmers occupying more land, while also creating more jobs, and you can see how this enormous conflict of how one feeds the world can be mitigated by first feeding our communities.

What is Sustainable Anyway?

One of the most overused words, in our humble opinion, is ‘Sustainable’ This seems to have become the ‘mot du jour’ when describing the kind of life we’d all like to think we’re leading. It’s one of those buzz words that makes us feel like we’re really supporting a worthwhile cause. While Sustainability is no doubt a worth while goal, can we truly be sustainable?

As farmers growing with organic principles, we also tend to be rather contradictory when it comes to garbage and things unsustainable. At the end of each season, when we walk our fields and begin the arduous task of cleaning up the farm and ‘putting it to rest’ for the winter, it always strikes us that we use far too many unsustainable products. Plastic is one of those items that is ubiquitous on almost any farm, even on those practicing organic methods. I look around our farm and see 4 greenhouses draped in plastic, and the countless beds we setup with a plastic ‘mulch’ used for weed suppression and maximizing soil temperatures. How can we even begin to consider ourselves ‘sustainable’? Then there’s the reemay (row cover) used to protect many of our plants from insect damage or provide extra warmth during colder months. Reemay is made with polypropylene or polyester, which can hardly be considered sustainable. And how about our equipment? Most of it requires diesel or gasoline for operation.

While this might seem a bit discouraging and even hopeless, there is some good news on the horizon. Many farms, including ours, are beginning to see the proverbial irony with the common goal to farm in harmony with nature, and our habitual efforts to do the exact opposite. This is why or farm has decided to make 2013 the year we begin working towards a less trashy agricultural existence. That means using biodegradable ‘plastic mulch’ (manufactured w/ non-GMO products), and reassessing what ends up in the landfill each winter by asking if that product can survive a couple more growing seasons. Even though farmers tend to be the most thrifty folks on the planet, we cannot get around the fact that some of the products we use are simply not sustainable. Our goal must be to seek out those products that put the least amount of stress on our environment. This is not easy, but it cannot be an excuse to continue farming this way.

As less destructive product options become available to farmers, it’s up to us to take the lead on utilizing these items. If you’re not sure what is available, contact your local University extension agent and find out what they are field testing. With a little knowledge and vigilance, we can truly work towards a more sustainable farming model.

2012 CSA is Full!

We are no longer accepting CSA members for this season.
You are still able to make your second 1/2 payment if you already joined.

Thank you!

Pickup Locations:
Carnation – Sol to Seed Farm
Snoqualmie Ridge
Seattle – Grand Central Cafe (Eastlake location only)
Seattle – Belltown (Pintxo)
Issaquah – Swedish Hospital Highlands
Bellevue/Kirkland – Bridle Trails Neighborhood

Please check our website often, we will continue to update locations.

Farmers are collaborating…

In a recent piece, Shaun Haney asks “why don’t farmers collaborate more?” (http://www.realagriculture.com/2012/06/why-dont-farmers-collaborate-more/) This struck me as a simple yet provocative question, especially taken within the context with which Haney poses the question; Crop protection, trait developers and plant breeding companies are doing a great job of leveraging their assets and intellectual capital through collaboration… With the cost of land, equipment and labor increasing, does it make sense that farmers collaborate so little?
Mr. Haney mentions the collaboration between companies like BASF, Syngenta, Cargill and Monsanto and their agreements to develop technologies and products for farmers.

As a small farm using organic growing practices – we grow 2 acres of diverse market crops – I can tell you first hand that farmers are collaborating! Just because we don’t have multi-million dollar corporate backing, near-endless marketing capital and teams of lobbyists and attorneys, doesn’t mean we aren’t working towards common goals.

Before I go any further, it’s important to make a distinction between the product or type of farming I’m speaking of and the type of ‘farming’ most targeted by the biotech industry. What do you think of when you hear the term ‘farmer’ or ‘farming’? Is it a small farm, say 5, 20, 40 acres, producing a diverse selection of market crops? Or, is it 3,000 acres of wheat, corn, soy, etc. being worked by GPS guided, $300k plus pieces of equipment?

So, how are small-scale farmers collaborating anyway? This is where the biotech and industrial-farming industry are missing the movement. The first and perhaps most obvious point of collaboration is your local farmers market. According to an article in the Chicago Herald-News, written in August 2011, there are an estimated 7,175 farmers markets throughout the U.S. and more than 100,000 farms selling directly to local customers. What could be a more solid form of collaboration than this? You can’t have a farmers market without a collaboration of farmers. Think of the millions of shoppers supporting these local markets and his/her dedication to local farms. That’s a pretty nice lobby to have behind you when mobilization is needed. We need look no further than the spinach scare back in 2006 – when e coli brought the national spinach industry to its knees, local farmers markets were flooded with people looking for the homegrown greens. The vast majority of Americans support labeling of GMO foods. For all the money and advertising the biotech industry has put into the agricultural community, it doesn’t seem to be resonating with local food buyers.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms now available to communities everywhere. This too is another form of farmer collaboration. What about the Organic Valley Coop? 1,723 farm families are currently listed on the OV website. These are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how farmers are coming together to keep small-scale viable and profitable.

In addition to the above mentioned, many farmers are collaborating on things like, seed-saving, equipment sharing, order consolidation, etc. If you live in a world at 30,000 feet, you’ll never see what’s happening here on the ground.

The most important distinction between the biotech/industrial approach to collaboration and the small-scale, local approach is in the philosophy. Whereas the biotech/industrial approach is most concerned with profit and growth, the local approach is most concerned with environmental and viability issues. While it’s important that as small business owners we are profitable, that is not the driving force behind our dedication to growing food for our communities. What legacy will we leave for our future farmers? What type of markets will be available to the next generation? How do we keep land viable and healthy?
How do we gain control of our destiny without corporate interest? These are the driving forces to the not always visible collaboration of local, small-scale farmers.

PSFN blog featuring our farm:

http://psfn.org/blog/2011/04/producer-member-highlight-sol-to-seed-farm/

Producer Member Highlight: Sol to Seed Farm
On March 16th, PSFN Project Manager, Lucy Norris visited Sol to Seed Farm in Carnation, WA and talked with Matt and Deanna Tregoning about their CSA and wildlife in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Tell us a little bit about Sol to Seed Farm.

My wife Deanna and I moved here in 2008 so this is the third year we’ve been farming this land. We both grew up in Michigan. Farming here is a long-term commitment for us and we wanted a place where we could leave a lasting impression by conserving and allowing nature to guide us. We are Certified Naturally Grown and incorporate many growing philosophies, all of which are based on organic principles. We have twenty acres but only one and half acres in production. We use no synthetics and have a strict non-GMO pledge. Most of our farm is worked with hand tools and a walk-behind tractor. We use our 4-wheel tractor only when necessary. We have a Facebook page, we Tweet, and we put flyers up at PCC and participate in farmers markets. We joined PSFN in 2009.

Tell me more about your CSA.

Our CSA shares are our product. All of the food we place in our CSA boxes during the season is from our farm. We do not source from other growers. We’re ready to sell (50) CSA shares this year (that’s 20 more than last year). We grow a bunch of different things and people are really happy with the quality and variety. We were once CSA customers so we’re always thinking of things we liked and didn’t like.

We already have verbal commitments from more than 50 people now, but it’s not real until the checks arrive. And right now is when we’re spending the most money. Every week that someone signs up we say, “Great! There’s the money to buy more seeds.” With each share we sell, that money goes directly back into the farm.

Our prices are based on two sizes of shares. One is a half share box ($400) that feeds two people who eats most meals at home. The full box ($600) is ideal for a family who plans to use vegetables in daily meals. For smaller restaurants (approx 20 tables), we suggest starting with 1 to 3 full shares per week and developing a tasting menu based on that week’s share. This works especially well for restaurants new to developing seasonal menus and farm direct purchasing. Start with CSA shares and train your staff how to use more “fresh off the farm” ingredients and less “RTE” processed foods.

What can new members expect from Sol to Seed CSA boxes this year?

New CSA members should expect lighter shares earlier in the season, but we make up for it once the harvest kicks in. Early share boxes might include Kale, Kohlrabi, Peas, Bunching Onions, Green Garlic, Arugula, Radishes and Turnips. Mid Season/Late Season boxes might include Lettuce, Beans, Carrots, Beets, Fennel, Rainbow Chard, Tomatoes, Hot and Sweet Peppers, Salad Mix, Potatoes, Summer Squash, Cucumbers, Melons, Eggplant and Corn

What makes Sol to Seed Farm’s CSA unique?

We’re able to grow lots of pantry staples as well as hard to find local produce that other farms in the Pacific Northwest struggle to grow. For example, we grow an impressive variety of standard and twenty varieties of sunflowers, thirty varieties of heirloom tomatoes including saucing/paste, slicing and cherry types. We also grow forty varieties of hot and sweet peppers and eggplants popular with chefs and serious home cooks. We small but we have absolute control over our own quality standards. We also bottle and sell our own brand of pickled jalapeno pepper rings.

It’s been another bad year for floods, has it affected your planting?

Not really. In 2009 it was really bad. That’s before we got the green houses. Our house is 8 feet off the ground, but if water ever got in the house that would be cataclysmic. Since we moved here the worst flood got up to about 4 feet below the house, so I think we’re OK. Our waterway in Snoqualmie is pretty clean so it’s more about dealing with the mud than with garbage. It’s not the Mississippi River although some of the rules about planting after a flood are based on one polluted river across the country.

Oh! There’s the first swallow… (Pauses to look as the bird flying away)

So what kinds of birds are you trying to attract over here?

Those are actually bat houses. We just put those up last year so we’ll see what happens, but there’s nothing yet. I’d like to bring in some owls, too. That’s the cool thing about living here since Salmon Safe started establishing trees early with the neighbors like Jubilee Farms all the way down the road, cleaning out the non-native plants. Wendy (from Jubilee Farms) and I really enjoy following the birds and tell each other when we see something new. She said they’ve noticed more raptors since the trees have been established. We’re just trying to attract everything we can. Birds in general seem to really thrive out here. It’s amazing in the summer, all day we’ll see hawks, falcons, kestrels, bald eagles, harriers—at least once a day you see a hawk come down and snatch up a snake or rats and carry it away. I saw a hummingbird today and so I raced out to check the bird feeders. We are also trying to attract Mason bees. We’ve got really good soil out here but a thriving bird and insect population will only make it better.

Connecting with Sol to Seed Farm

Sol to Seed Farm is now accepting applications for their 2011 CSA season. This year they plan to increase the number of CSA shares, so make sure you get your applications and payments in soon to guarantee your spot. The first share is planned for distribution on June 15th through October. In addition to our existing drop points or ‘depots’ in Issaquah Klahanie, Downtown Seattle, Bellevue Bridal Trails and at the farm in Carnation, Sol to Seed is adding one new Seattle depot, in the Maple Leaf neighborhood. Please email Matt with questions regarding the upcoming season: soltoseedfarm@gmail.com. Matt is open to adding new depot locations. Those interested in offering their commercial or residential site as a pick-up location Sol to Seed Farm is offering a 5% discount for a depot site that serves at least 4 CSA members.

For more information about Sol to Seed Farm, and to sign up for their 2011 CSA, contact Matt and Deanna Tregoning at soltoseedfarm@gmail.com or 425-273-1232. You can also visit their website at www.soltoseedfarm.com, follow them on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sol-to-Seed-Farm/222101135476 and on Twitter: soltoseedfarm.