The value of work shares…

Each year we are blessed by about 10-15 Work Share CSA members. A Work Share is an opportunity for folks to experience a bit of farm life, get some fresh air and exercise, and help us out. In exchange, these wonderful members get a weekly CSA share and a great community meal.

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Each Tuesday (June- October) from 9:00 am – 1:30 pm our work share members show up for a (half) day on the farm. Mostly they help with harvesting and washing vegetables – but will sometimes be put to a group chore.

We farm about 13 acres in veggies, fruits, legumes, grains, and cover crops. We harvest for about 150 CSA members and 2 farmers markets. With two full time farmers and a crew of (ideally) 5 apprentices, it’s just about all we can do to keep up with everything. So, our weekly influx of Work Shares helps relieve the pressure of a big harvest. Many hands make light work.

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Its an experience that even folks on a busy schedule can appreciate. The field conversations are as exciting as receiving the freshly picked vegetables at the end!  Since we all work side by side and switch crews constantly, everyone has a chance to get to know new people and to collectively share their knowledge of growing food and preserving the harvest.  Of course the farmers and apprentices are always around to answer questions and contribute a tid-bit of farm wisdom, there’s no school in the nation that could provide such a rich and rewarding curriculum!  After an action packed morning of harvesting and weeding, we all break for lunch at 1:30 pm.

Work Shares are invited to eat with us, of course. It’s a great opportunity to sit down with the whole crew (sometimes over 20 people!), talk about life and the farm and eat a great home cooked meal. Most people wait until late November to have a once-a-year huge home-cooked meal, but here at Blackberry Meadows its a weekly event, not to be missed!  The rich diversity of our food community, the laughs we share about field follies and failed recipes and of course being able to enjoy a fine dessert!  After stuffing themselves with food and good tidings, they grab their CSA shares and go home to take a nap!

We always welcome inquiries for new Work Share members, so please get in touch. We typically accept about 5 new members each season. You can send questions to jen@blackberrymeadows.com

 

 

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Emerging from winter hibernation

Can you see it? The morning light has changed. I don’t exactly know when it happened, but I can tell that Spring is here (ignore the snow on the ground!). At one point, we were milking the cows in the dark, both morning and night. Now, our morning milking is kissed with a little coral sunrise.

IMG_6188Those frigid weeks were an adventure. It can take about an hour and a half to do the animal chores; milking, hay, water, feed, eggs, and general barnyard conviviality. When it’s -15 degrees out, it’s really important to milk quickly. We milk by hand, and with Jersey cows (who have notoriously short teats) our ring and pinky fingers just kind of hang out waving around cold, while the rest of the hand is busily trying to get as much milk out of that udder. I found that if I gooped my whole hand up with lotion or coconut oil, it would slow the eminent frostbite of the two extraneous digits on each hand.

For my morning chores, I would layer up with merino long underwear, flannel pj pants and then a pair of ‘Sherpa’ lined Carhart pants (think knobby fleece lined canvas pants that weigh 20 lbs and can stand up on their own). Then a flannel shirt with a merino sweater, a sweat shirt, a scarf to cover my nose, and a winter work coat on top of it all. Of course I donned two pairs of gloves too. I could hardly walk, let alone, bend down and milk cows for a half hour. Greg dresses just about the same for his arctic evening chores, but with more pairs of socks.

Luckily, we have a semi-trusty golf cart. We load it up with our milk buckets, iodine water and milk can. When there was an arctic chill in the air, my eyeballs almost froze, the snot dripping out of my nose froze. It’s really cold. I quit wearing my glasses outside because they would freeze my to my face.

So, we (Greg or I, depending on whether it’s morning or evening chores), would jet out to the barn on our golf cart, and get inside as quickly as possible. It’s actually tolerable once we were out of the wind. The cows and their bedding warmed it up a bit too, I’m sure. First we fed Socks, the cat. He’s a cuddly gray and white guy that likes to be pet, but not so keen on being held. Our resident mouser. Then we go up to the hay loft and toss straw and hay down through the shoot. Socks has a sweet hay castle upstairs that he burrows into during the long arctic nights.

The sheep yell at us until we give them fresh flakes of hay (they are quite picky eaters and seem to only eat 1/16 of what we give them, strewing the rest all around their stall). We toss a few flakes into their feeders to keep them quiet.

Then we give the cows a small incentive of organic oats and corn to come into the milking stanchions. They greedily slurp up their treats and then patiently graze their hay and chew their cud while we go about the business of milking.

After about 15 minutes of hand milking and freezing pinky fingers, we are done with the cows and ready to move onto the fowl. Let the hens out, give them more grain and water, feed and water the guinea hens too, then back to the house to jar up the milk and get on with our day.

It’s a nice routine, one that will be broken up soon, with the arrival of our 3 apprentices. Greg and I are looking forward to the coming help, the excitement of live-in apprentices , and a busy and fruitful growing season. There’s also a bit of a sad farewell to our quiet winter, hunkered down as a family.

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Busy Spring days (although, technically it’s still winter)

Frost on the barn window at Blackberry Meadows Farm

Frost on the barn window at Blackberry Meadows Farm

We have a big office calendar on our fridge.  When we use it – it helps Greg and I keep track of who’s coming and when, where we need to be, what we need to buy, and why we’re starting to go crazy.  You can tell we’re on the up hill journey towards craziness when you see that a whole week is covered in chicken scratch.  Then, throw in the activities of a toddler (library & swimming – not that overwhelming) and the week is over before you know it!

We warmed up the tractor and hauled up potting soil to the greenhouse

We warmed up the tractor and hauled up potting soil to the greenhouse

Yesterday was a big day – our potting soil arrived from Ohio Earth Food.  Granted, we had a few bags left over from last year – but now we are prepared to go full steam ahead.  We’re not eager to heat up the greenhouse when it’s 3 degrees outside – so we’ve maximized the warmth and coziness of our laundry/furnace room.  We can start 30 trays of something there – and that’s just what we did.  We’ve got herbs, flowers, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, leeks and onions started and will still plant broccoli, cabbage, kale and other leafy greens (almost all of an heirloom variety or another) by the end of the week.

Laundry room turned germination room

Laundry room turned germination room

Also – Evelyn got her first 2014 ride on the tractor with Papa!

Evelyn and Greg take a ride on the Case

Evelyn and Greg take a ride on the Case

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Invite to returning CSA members: Time to join!

It’s that time of year again!  Our seed orders are in and we’re going to be putting seeds to soil before you know it!

Since you were a member last year – you can join at last year’s prices. Please see the attached documentPrint out the Shareholder agreement form and mail it in with a check.

This year we’re increasing our heirloom varieties – with more colors of tomatoes (white, purple, green, and variegated), unusual squashes, and unique greens.  Of course, there’s going to be the old-standbys that you can expect to see too.  I wish there was a way that we could post up our seed purchases online – then you could get a detailed view of what we’re putting in the ground this year!  We spend about $2000 on seeds each year, then another $2000 on potting soil and organic soil amendments.  Then, there’s irrigation supplies, row cover, fuel for the tractors and heat for the greenhouse.  Our organic certification usually costs around $1000, then taxes, the mortgage….. you know how it goes – it all adds up!

This is why running a CSA program is so cool.  You folks help defray a lot of these up front costs – helping to disperse our flow (in and out) of cash throughout the growing season.

So – please sign up!  You can join the CSA as a basic share, half share (every other week pick up), or plus share (2 times a basic share, every week – the most economical – buddy up with a friend and enjoy the savings!).

We’re adding a new drop site this year – up in Butler Co.  at the intersection of Bonniebrook Rd and Rt 422, at Crossfit Bonniebrook.  So, if you know folks  up that way that would like to join a Certified Organic CSA – send them our way! (The 2014 shareholder agreement and pricing in on our homepage at http://www.blackberrymeadows.com )

New members for 2014 can go to our homepage and download the 2014 shareholder agreement.

If you end up recommending our CSA to a friend and they sign up – please encourage them to give us your name.  We’ll give you a $20 credit for purchases towards our farm products – like eggs, meats, cheeses, honey, etc.!

If you would like to join as a workshare – member and trade your CSA share for labor – please get in touch!
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Ready. Set. GO!

P1020747Ohh – they say this weather is going to break. We’re going to make it into the 50′s. That’s down-right balmy, and a recipe for MUD. I have personally enjoyed this winter, granted, a small case of cabin fever is starting to creep into our cozy home. There’s a crack in our chimney pipe – so we can’t heat the house with wood until Greg can safely climb up on our metal roof and fix the seal. Sure, we’ve got backup baseboard heaters – but there’s just something ‘wintery’ about stoking a fire throughout the day.

P1030879Our greenhouse is in shambles, to be honest. Last fall, we tore out the south facing tables and built a raised bed of cinder blocks, in order to house a hundred or so rosemary plants. In fact, the whole greenhouse table infrastructure is due for a re-fab. Not a small project, especially when you consider that we’re going to integrate about 50 275 gallon totes of water into the design. At the most basic level, they will serve as a heat-sink throughout the winter – keeping the ambient temps up in the greenhouse on those arctic nights. Ideally, they will be filled with Tilapia – creating a closed circuit aquaponics system, much like they have over at Growing Power.

8535_525391296176_170502083_31320250_6588917_nBut – we need to consider the heart of the matter. It’s smack dab in the middle of February and there are seeds that need to be planted. We’ll create a small nursery for the early seedlings (peppers, onions, leeks, brassicas, etc.) in our basement with grow lights and warm water. Eventually, we’ll out grow this space and have to move to the greenhouse. It’s no small task keeping that place warm, and many a sleepless night are spent wondering if the heaters are doing their job. Will all our little babies make it through the frigid nights?

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Spring is in the air

Just a quick check in – although it’s snowy and crisp out, we can tell that the weather is changing.  Maybe it’s the angle of the sun and the songs of birds in the trees – but it’s here.  The time has come to think about how we are going to start as many seedlings as possible in the basement, before we have to turn on the heaters in the greenhouse.  We’ve got a mountain of a manure pile that needs to be spread on the fields.  The chickens are starting to pick up their end of the deal and are cranking out the eggs.  The farms abuzz!

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Evelyn is growing quickly.  She’s a smart little whip with quite a vocabulary, almost potty trained (honestly, we haven’t been pushing her either!), and enjoying the ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster of a two-year old.

eggsWe’re looking forward to another great growing season!  We’re branching out with more heirloom varieties of tomatoes, squash and cucumbers.  There are plans for a 1/2 acre pumpkin patch (PYO for our CSA members!), and goals of planting more perennial fruits.
Hopefully this cold, cold winter will help control the bug population (unfortunately, the poor bees have had a hard time staying warm too), and we’ll get a break from that hurdle!

Stay warm and stay in touch!

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Newsletters Weeks 6 – 11

Here’s a bunch of newsletters:

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Week 11

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