Week 8 – August 7, 2011

Someone at market asked if we were happy to have all this rain . . . . well, truly, a farmer can never be happy with the current weather, it’s just not in our blood.  Currently, we’re waiting patiently for a week off from the rain, as our fall weather crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale) are just about ready to be transplanted out into the fields.  We’ve still to mow, rototill, pick rocks and fertilize before we can even put the plants into the ground.  We’re playing the waiting game and hope that by the end of the week, our fields will be dry enough to handle the heavy weight and compaction of a tractor.

The tomato plants are loaded and are going to ripen fast.  With the rain storms that have been blowing through, our gorgeous heirloom tomatoes are splitting like crazy.  They may not look the prettiest, but you’ve never had a tomato until you’ve had one of our heirloom tomatoes.  The cherry tomatoes that we’re giving out are a variety of hybrids call Sungolds.  They are the only hybrid tomato we grow – but are well worth it!

Growing the Farm

August 1st  marked the end of a three year grant period for us to write the Business Plan for a farm kitchen here at Blackberry Meadows.  The PA Department of Community and Economic Development helped us hire $94,000 worth of consultants to help us plan a net-zero-energy Farm Kitchen which will allow us to cook, package and sell Value-Added products directly from our farm.

The Wood Fired oven (see current projects below) is a stepping stone to the larger kitchen, and we are hoping that it will help us prove the business model and get some of our foods onto store shelves.  We are still putting the finishing touches on the plans, but they will be made available to everyone through our website in the next week or so.

There is about 25-40% of our harvest which isn’t distributed each week.  Either it’s left in the field because of some weather damage, or there were too many to harvest, or some cosmetic damage in our handling – these foods aren’t taken during CSA pickup, nor sold at Farmers Markets. The future kitchen will turn these products into delicious shelf stable items for us to sell over the winter months.

As part of the project, we are sharing the plan through a “Creative Commons” copyright which allows anyone to use the document for ideas.  It’s similar to “Open Source” or “freeware” programs for the computer.  We hope that other farmers will be able to use the plan to generate income from their unsold harvests as well – increasing the amount of available local foods in regional diets.

Current Projects

The rain last week slowed down the progress of our Wood Fired Oven – making a bit of mud in the foundation before we could get the concrete poured.  Nate and Greg spent a good part of Wednesday and Thursday digging out the trenches.  Nate even went the extra mile to construct some additional form-work to keep the concrete usage down a bit (and save a few dollars!).
So far we’ve raised $290!   That should get us close to being able to finish the concrete foundation and begin raising the concrete block base.

We’ve purchased, cut and bent the steel re-bar pieces and are about ready to start piecing them together  in the foundation trenches.   Bernie Lamb, a CSA member and friend of the project, helped us by drawing out the pieces and sizes we would need to make the foundation strong enough to hold the huge oven.

Our friend, Ray Werner, has been helping with the oven planning and has lent us the wooden form to build the complicated arches, inside the oven.  Another CSA member, Kat,– has some experience with stonework and has offered to help us with the block work once we get the foundation set.

An oven like this is a community asset, and we are glad to recognize the following supporters for their enthusiastic and generous encouragement!

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