My post from September 2012

What I Am Learning: Changing With the Seasons

Original post:‎

With City Grown’s really small land area (1/4 acre total, spread among eight plots), we are able to grow enough produce to supply our two weekly markets, but just barely.  This leads to a different type of harvest procedure than I remember from the farms I interned on.  On a City Grown harvest day, we go out and get everything that’s ready.   We generally keep the plants very well harvested, because we have to in order to have enough to sell! There aren’t very many overripe tomatoes falling onto the ground or baseball-bat sized, got-away-from-us  zucchini.   However, the month of August brought our first crop that’s really too much to keep up with: beans!  We planted six 25-foot beds with pole beans in two different varieties.  For our tiny farm, this is a lot!  And during the last two weeks of August they came on hard and fast, producing a bounty of  gorgeous, delicious beans all at once.  Luckily, the beans hold over well in the fridge compared to other crops, so we can save them for the next market when we pick more than we can sell.  But they’re also pretty much impossible to keep fully picked the way we’ve been getting used to doing with our other crops.  It was kind of a revelation for Noe and me to be out in the field and realize that it would take all day for the two of us to thoroughly harvest the beans.   Wow!  Now this is what it was like on my internship farm, where our instructions were often to go out and get a certain amount of something or to harvest for a certain amount of time, not to completely clean the crop of all the ready fruits.

Noe and I decided to spend an hour on the beans and get what we could.  In that amount of time we were able to harvest plenty enough to sell.  There were still plenty of tiny baby beans indicating a plethora of fresh tender ones next time we came to pick.  The beans that we had to leave on the vine will get over-mature, but they can be saved for next year’s seed.  Maybe we can find time  in here to can some dilly beans, too.  So the upshot is that it is great to be able to harvest most of our crops thoroughly with very little wasted food.  But it is also great to be able to adapt our harvest strategy to fit the needs of each crop.

This adaptability to the requirements of the present moment is really what farming is all about.  This is far from being a job in which every day is the same old routine.  You are always changing and modifiying based on the season, the weather, pest pressures, available markets, and a million other factors.

Our tomato plot!

Our tomato plot!

To take the beans for example again: This time of year, I go to pick beans twice a week.  I walk into the leafy, shady hallway created by the pole bean trellises to pick handfuls of succulent, slightly fuzzy purple pods to fill my harvest bin.  As I crunch on the flavorful fruits, I can sort of remember planting the seeds for these beans back in May.  I know that I must have watered them and watched for germination, but I’ve forgotten most of the details of those springtime days.  And back then when I planted, I didn’t really have a fully formed idea of what the beans would be like now.  I knew theoretically that they’d be ready for harvest in August, but I wasn’t visualizing the details of trellis building, climbing tendrils, and laden vines.  This is what farming does for me: it keeps me in the now, dealing with each day, week, and season as it presents itself.  I do have a general overview picture in my head about crop planning and such, but I also have to just keep showing up at each plot and looking around and having the plants tell me what they need from me today.

Transplanting fall broccoli with volunteer, Christian

I have to adapt my daily rituals to the seasons in a continual flow of gradual changes from April through October.   Certain crops can only be planted at one very specific time.  Others can be grown during a longer window, but they behave differently and need different care in the spring and fall versus the summer.  I rarely have to water seedlings for several months in the spring, but then in August it feels like I’m spending half my time with a hose in my hand.

I love to farm and I am grateful for the opportunity it gives me to spend my days outside, feeling the change of the seasons, watching and reacting to the behavior of the plants.  As the days now get noticeably shorter around here and the feel of fall enters the air, I don’t feel sad at the passing of summer.  I feel excited for the crispness of fall, apple cider pressings, and the natural slowing down of production that gives us overworked farmers a chance to rest.  I am already looking forward to a winter filled with seed ordering, new plot development, and a little more sleep.  And then we’ll be ready to start all over again!

A City-Grown CSA share in mid-August


My post from August 2012

What I am learning: Creativity

Origninal Post:

July at City Grown Seattle has seen a huge explosion of growing and producing plants.  Looking back at photos from the beginning of the month, I was amazed at how things have changed:  Sunflowers now in bloom were just little sprouts at the end of June, and the beans currently reaching off the tops of their eight-foot trellis hadn’t even begun climbing 30 days ago.  I marvel at the plants’ vigor and appreciate that their health shows we’ve been tending them properly.

At the same time, though, the past few weeks have turned up more than a few crop shortages.  I have an increasing admiration for the farmers I’ve worked for in the past, who were able to keep various crops in constant supply by careful succession planning. As our City Grown season has progressed, more and more divergences from the original planting plan have occurred.  A single planting of head lettuce, for example, gave us only enough heads to last through three weeks of markets, instead of the four weeks we’d hoped for, and the following succession wasn’t ready as early as our paper plan had predicted.  This meant a disappointing two-week gap in our head lettuce.  Many customers were excited about our romaine and would be buying a head a week if we had it available for them, but it’s not the end of the world:  We still have salad mix with baby lettuces, and plenty of other veggie options.

That’s what’s been important for our market stand: having a wide variety.  We often get comments from shoppers that our display is the most diverse at the farmers’ market.  Because we can’t bring large quantities, it’s nice that we can set ourselves apart by bringing a little bit of a lot of things.  There are lots of veggies growing out in the fields, giving us plenty of items to bring to market, even some unexpected items.  We have been learning to make use of whatever is ready as we harvest each week, and a healthy mix of creativity and neglected plants has led to some fun farmstand additions.  Mustard greens, for example, were not in our planting plan.  Then a succession of spicy salad mix grew beyond its baby state when we didn’t have time to till it in during the spring rush.  The larger leaves were still lush and edible, so we got a couple weeks of extra harvest from the bed and had some nice looking–and unexpected–bunches of mustard greens to bulk up the market stand display.  And people loved them!  Harvesting and marketing whatever is growing well, instead of trying to stick to an exact pre-planned harvest goal, is teaching us a lot about consumer tastes.  Why do people love radishes and parsley so much?  I don’t know, but it’s lucky they do. We had a lot of them this spring.

Creativity has also necessary in planning our space use.  I spend a lot of mental energy deciding what to plant where, and when.  I am getting to know all the little quirks of each of our eight plots.  Jon and Katie’s yard has the sandiest soil and needs more frequent watering, so it’s best not to sow seeds there in the summertime. Use transplanted crops instead. The Bonds’ place has a lot of snail and slug pests, so we put tomatoes there instead of lettuce.  Half of Bryan’s place is quite a bit shadier than the rest, so how do we use that to our advantage?  It’s like fitting together puzzle pieces.  Or more like playing chess, really, because there is a time dimension involved too:  If I seed these brassicas in the greenhouse now, which beds will be available in a month when they’re ready to be transplanted?  What should we plan to put in after the peas?  How long can we keep harvesting a single planting of kale?  I know that, over time, many of these things will become second-nature to me.  I could tell by watching my mentors during my apprenticeships that they were doing many things based on feel and experience that they couldn’t fully explain.  It is exciting to realize how much my own intuition has grown over just a few months of running my own farm, and I am already very much looking forward to next season.

We made our first restaurant connection this month, with a fantastic vegan restaurant and yoga studio in our neighborhood.  The chef bought a couple things from us at the farmers’ market, then we exchanged contact information and he has called us a couple times to order more.  He came and picked up the veggies from our plot, which is about five minutes away from his restaurant, and we are already discussing growing some crops specifically for him next season.  This immediate proximity is what sets our farm apart.  We may not have much growing space, but we have enough, and it’s right here.  We travel only 10 minutes to and from the farmers’ market where we sell.  One of us can quickly go harvest extra and bring it to the market if we run low on something.  On Saturdays, when we open up our farmstand, we wake up, walk out the back door, process vegetables, and then set up our tent in our front yard to wait for our neighbors to come to us to buy food.  Sure, we could grow more and make more money if we had more land.  But our expenses are few and the degree of success that we’ve been having with City Grown so far makes me very excited about the possibilities of urban farming as a viable commercial farming model.  I hope to continue expanding and improving our business, becoming more creative, efficient, and involved in our community as we go.


Catching up with blog posts from the past year: July!

2012 was such a busy year!   I would have loved to blog more during City Grown’s first season, but as it was I barely had time to fulfill my commitment to the National Young Farmers Coalition as a “bootstraps blogger” with once-a-month posts on their site.  I didn’t take the time to copy them over to here, my personal play space.  Now that it’s winter and I’ve got nothing but time, I’m enjoying re-reading them as I copy them over.  Here they are, starting with what I wrote in July 2012.

Original post here:

Becky selling City Grown veggies at our neighborhood farmers’ market

“What I am Learning: Interdependence”

I think anyone who knows me would agree with me here: I am a bit of a control freak. I try to keep it in check, but the tendency is there to want to do everything all by myself to make sure that it’s done “right.”

As it turns out, this can be troublesome when one is starting a business with two partners! It also tends to be a problem when trying to farm, an occupation that comes with an overwhelming amount of work on even the smallest scale.

This year–my first season of working for myself–I have been even more focused than usual on knowing every detail of everything going on with the farm. Noe and Scott, my dear, dear business partners, have been wonderfully accepting of my throwing myself into the venture so wholeheartedly. But they might secretly be a teensy bit sick of my micromanagement at times!

Noe harvesting chard

Scott and Noe started City Grown last season, but the nature of their other jobs meant that they had very limited time to devote to it last year. The idea this season was that I would join with a larger time commitment than either of them, and, as a trio, we would be able to be the equivalent of one full-time farmer. Because I am devoting so much more time, I have taken on more responsibility than I might otherwise have done as a newcomer. I am grateful that my business partners have been willing for me to come in and make changes and take the reins so quickly, but I need to remember that we three are all equal partners.

I have been frustrated with myself for trying to take too much control. Until recently, however, it seemed too hard to let go. I wanted this business to succeed with every fiber of my being. Of course I was going to be constantly thinking about it and trying to plan every detail.

But now that harvest season is really ramping up around here, there is suddenly too little time for me to have a finger in every pie. With two harvest days and two market days every week on top of all the seeding, transplanting, watering, and weeding that still needs to get done, the scope of the work is certainly well beyond what can be accomplished by the two hands of one person.

Scott top-tying the growing tomato plants

I know from my apprenticeship experiences that a farm organism can be a wonderfully collaborative, synergistic thing, with many pieces and parts coming together, tasks getting done by different people, and responsibilities divided up and independently taken care of. I am finally being forced to put myself into a different role within this organism. I am no longer a recipient of instructions from a boss like when I was an intern. Now I am a decision-maker and implementer, but I am not the only one. My new role has to be that of one participant in this whole organism, and one of the directors of the other participants. I can direct the flow of the farm without actually being there to do all the work myself. City Grown was the beneficiary of a much-needed “crop mob” work party a couple weeks ago, organized by our Washington Young Farmers’ Coalition. We are extremely grateful for the transformation of one of our farm plots, brought by the magic of many hands making light work. Organizing and directing that work party was a chance for me to step back and understand that I have to trust others to help me make this farm all it can be.

Now that I have made a conscious effort to I let go of some of my anxiety around farming details, it seems help is showing up from all corners to assist us. The work party was great, and City Grown will also take on our first work-trade volunteer, now that we actually have plenty of vegetables to trade for her work! During this past week alone a few spontaneous happenings helped lighten my workload: One of my best farmer friends dropped by for a fun hour of pruning tomato plants with me, I roped (pun intended) my boyfriend into hanging pole bean string with me, and Noe changed up her usual routine to work a farmers’ market so I could take an afternoon off.

The month of June has been great: full of hard work and wonderful successes for City Grown. To fully appreciate these moments as they flow by, I am learning to relax a bit in my need for control and instead allow myself to nurture and grow all the interdependent people and pieces that will continue to come together to make it happen.

A gang of awesome volunteers helped us with a work party to build our bean trellises