Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

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6/17/2015

KU Student Farm 

For starters, what exactly does WWOOF even mean? WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and is an online resource which helps connect volunteers with organic farmer hosts. In return for volunteer help, hosts offer room, board, and the opportunity to learn about organic farming and sustainable lifestyles.

Volunteering abroad on an organic farm (or WWOOFing) can be a great way to learn more about organic farming, experience a new culture, forge lasting friendships, travel abroad on a budget, and gain valuable hands-on experience in sustainable farming practices from people who live, drink, breath, and (of course) eat organic. From produce to poultry, big farms to small gardens, cheese-making to pearl-diving; these are only some of the adventures that may await you!

This all sounds incredibly intriguing, but how exactly do you go about setting up this adventure of a lifetime? With some time, a little bit of research, ample planning, and the right expectations, getting yourself on your way to a great overseas farm experience is a breeze.

Here are some of the things that I have kept in mind as I’m gearing up to head out on my own WWOOFing expedition in France (and perhaps beyond).

9 Steps to Start WWOOFing Abroad

1. Give yourself plenty of time. This is the biggest tip I can give you. Before you even get started, you want to make sure to give yourself as much time as possible. When you’re cooking up an incredible organic experience overseas, time is the secret ingredient.

I’m all about spontaneity, but with a trip overseas, setting aside plenty of time to think about, plan, and set-up your trip can make a huge difference. Aim to start the planning process at least 3 months before you expect to arrive at your farm destination.

Also, if you’re for sure going to be going overseas and don’t have your passport yet, this may be a good time to go ahead and get that process rolling. Passports are pretty notorious for taking their sweet time to be processed. The sooner you get it, the better.

2. Ask yourself what it is that you want from the experience. Have realistic expectations. Are you interested in raising goats and making cheese? Perhaps you’d like to work at an eco-lodge and learn more about yoga and meditation. Maybe rainforest horticulture or sub-Saharan herding is more up your alley. The choices and experiences are nearly endless when it comes to WWOOFing. So to narrow down the possibilities and make your search more efficient, ask yourself some questions.

What are you the most interested in learning more about? Growing fruits and vegetables, working with animals, bee-keeping, self-sufficiency, permaculture, eco-lodges, spiritual retreats, making products such as cheese or jam, and the list goes on.

Are you wanting a very specific experience or a varied experience? This is important to keep in mind as some farms may specialize in one thing or bring you on to do a specific task, while others may herd animals, grow vegetables, raise bees, and make cheese and would be happy to let you participate in all of these activities.

Would you like to work on a farm alongside a large group of volunteers or at a place with very few volunteers?

What kind of accommodations are you looking for? Are you ok with sleeping in a tent for a couple of weeks, or would you rather have a room of your own with AC and running water?

Do you have any allergies or dietary restrictions?

3. Think about where you might like to go. How long. What season. Culture. There are literally thousands upon thousands of farms to choose from. To be honest, I was completely taken aback by just how many choices there were. Don’t waste the hours that I did perusing through every continent, every country, and every town. It was completely and utterly overwhelming. Let me walk you through how I would have done the process differently and leave you with a few tips.

Consider a region you would like to learn more about that provides you the best opportunities to learn about your interests. For me, I was interested in working on my French, so obviously French speaking countries are at the top of my list. I also wanted somewhere that I felt comfortable and assured that I could get around if I wanted, so I decided to go with France over the other French speaking countries.

I wanted to experience the Mediterranean, yet leave myself the option to travel north into the mountains, so I chose Montpellier. I then searched for farms near Montpellier on WWOOF France. Through this method, I was able to narrow my search down to three farms. Adapt this strategy to your own search and I think you’ll find that you save yourself hours of fruitless searches.

4. Register with the WWOOF site for the country of choice. Now that you have a pretty good idea of where you’d like to end up, it’s time to register with the WWOOF site for the country of your choice. My registration fee for WWOOF France was just over $25. After you register, you are given access to the contact information for participating WWOOF hosts in that particular country.

5. Contact the farms you are the most interested in. Ask tons of questions. This is super important and could make the difference between the trip of a lifetime and a torturous disappointment. In my opinion, it’s not possible to ask too many questions. Here is a list of questions, just to get you started:

Are their open volunteer opportunities for my availability?

How many hours will I be expected to work, how many days a week, and what days can I expect to have free?

What are my expected responsibilities? Will they vary?

How many people would I be working with?

How long would you prefer a WWOOFer to stay?

Are meals provided and are they shared? (This is also a good time to ask if they can accommodate any special dietary restrictions you may have and/or what a meal generally consists of)

What are my sleeping arrangements? What are my living arrangements?

Is internet available for WWOOFers to use? Is there cell phone service?

What skills can I expect to learn?

How do I get to your farm/lodge/home from the airport/bus stop/train station?

What should I bring? What should I not bring?

What questions do you have for me?

This is only a small sampling of the absolute infinite number of questions you can ask. The more questions you ask and the more answers you get, the better prepared you’ll be. Once you find a host you’re satisfied with and have locked in a stay be sure and let any other hosts that you contacted know that you will be staying somewhere else.

6. Buy your plane tickets. There’s not much more to be said about this one.

7. The little things…with big impacts. Now it’s time to do the little things that make a big difference. Check with your health insurance company to inquire whether you are covered while travelling and what your coverage is. If you’re not covered, you may look into purchasing travelers insurance.

Also be sure and let your credit card companies know where you will be travelling and during what time frame. This will lessen the chances that your credit card will be accidentally flagged, leaving you without access to your account.

Don’t forget to pick up a plug adapter for the country you are visiting and remember that plug adapters are NOT voltage adapters. If you are travelling to a country which uses a different voltage than your own, you may need a voltage adapter as well.

Add international coverage to your current cell phone plan, unless you plan to buy a Tracfone overseas.

If it's an option, it may be a good idea to exchange some cash into the currency of the country that you are visiting. I've learned the hard way that there are not many ATMs or places to exchange currency readily available at your destination.

8. Pack for where you’re going. Keep in mind where you are going. What will the temperatures most likely be while you are there? Is there anything that your host is willing to provide? Is there electricity? Obviously, you don’t want to pack swimwear to the desert or a hairdryer to somewhere with no electricity. I found the most effective method was just to ask my host what I should and should not bring.

9. Celebrate and get ready for an incredible experience. Sit back and bask in the awesomeness that is soon to be yours. Be sure and tell all of your friends about it, perhaps inspiring them to WWOOF abroad, in which case you can share all the ins and outs of putting together a successful experience of their own.

Also, be sure to follow my future blog posts as I WWOOF through France for the summer. I look forward to hearing from all of you as you work towards your own incredible experiences abroad!

Now, as they would say in France, “Bonne chance et bon voyage!”

Read all of Russell's adventures (and misadventures) WWOOFing in France by clicking here

Photo by Katrina McClure


6/15/2015

 carrots

I love growing carrots and I love including them in our meals and snacks, plus my chickens enjoy the carrot tops. The best, crunchiest, sweetest carrots I have eaten are always homegrown, which is why I enjoy including them in both my spring and fall gardens. Growing carrots is usually pretty easy as long as I remember to be patient.

As I have done for several seasons, I grow a few different varieties of heirloom carrots – Muscade, Parisienne, Purple Sun, and St. Valery – for varying sizes and colors. This year I planted about six square feet of raised-bed garden space with these assorted carrots.

In my experience, and the seed packet directions, carrots take a really long time to germinate – somewhere around 21 days give or take. Along with this long germination time, the seeds need to be kept moist but not soggy. They do not like to dry out at all, yet they will rot if kept too wet. In addition, once they do sprout, growth is really slow to start, but at some point – a couple of weeks or so – they begin growing like crazy. Finally, after about three months, I can begin to harvest these tasty roots.

My garden soil is a mix of standard raised-bed mix with lots of compost and chicken manure, which holds moisture well, but also drains well. I feed the carrots and other veggies every three or four weeks with an organic fertilizer – currently a fish emulsion and seaweed blend, and I spray them with a solution of Epsom salts and water (1 teaspoon Epsom salts to 4 cups warm water). Once actual growth is happening, I mulch the carrots with straw, and water once a day on warm days (80 degrees F and higher), and every other day when temperatures are cooler.

sliced

sauted

This year’s spring-planted carrot yield looks like it will be enough to keep us in fresh carrots for much of the summer. One of my favorite ways to enjoy carrots is to sauté them along with other garden veggies such as snow peas and zucchini. I was also able to process about 24 cups of sliced carrots for the freezer, which will be used in the fall and winter for soups and stews.

freezer

Procedure for Freezing Carrots

1. Wash carrots and trim off the ends; no need to peel.

2. Cut carrots to desired size, but be consistent.

3. Bring a stockpot of water to a boil.

4. Place carrots in boiling water.

5. Return water and carrots to boiling and then set timer for 3 minutes.

6. After 3 minutes submerge carrots in cold water to quickly cool them and stop the cooking process.

7. Put desired amount of carrots into freezer containers, Ziploc bags, or food saver bags.

8. Place in freezer for later use.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



6/10/2015

Cindy in homegrown cotton vestIn the photo I am wearing my new homegrown, handspun, handwoven, naturally-colored cotton vest. It has been years in coming. I learned to sew in 4-H when I was young and make most of my own clothes, including jeans and shirts. I began to quilt in order to use the scraps left from making our children’s clothes. But, to go from seed to finished vest was something else entirely. I had to learn to spin and weave.

The green and brown cotton came from my garden. I found that the weight of my harvest was 25 percent fiber and 75 percent seeds. If you grow your own, you end up with a lot of seeds to share. As a result, many of the members of the handspinning group I joined are growing cotton from my seeds.

Some states may have regulations about growing cotton. The boll weevil is monitored in Virginia and there is a small charge per acre to cotton growers to pay for that. If you are growing cotton on a small scale for non-commercial purposes, it is probably not necessary for the state to put a weevil trap at your place. Nevertheless, you are required to send an email to the Office of Plant Industry Services at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to say you are growing cotton and to ask for a waiver of the fee. If you live in a cotton growing state you might want to inquire about similar requirements.

I spun my cotton on a hand spindle, not a wheel, and wove it on a small table loom. I had other things keeping me busy so it took quite a while to get to the point of having fiber spun fine enough for this project. My earliest spinning in 2011 resembled rope more than thread, but I kept at it and got better. You can read more about the spinning and weaving and get a closer look at the details at Homeplace Earth.

All the while I was refining my spinning I thought I would use my resulting vest to start a conversation about the work Vandana Shiva is doing in India through Navdanya to help the cotton farmers there who have struggled after growing GMO cotton. I also wanted to talk about how Gandhi encouraged the Indian people to spin and weave their own cotton if they wanted to be free of British rule. However, now I have more thoughts and questions about the conditions of the workers who produce all the cheap clothing that is in the stores in the U.S. and the environmental problems resulting from the production of fabric. Did you know that there are lots of toxic chemicals used in the production of fabric and some linger in the clothes you wear? Learn more about these issues at Green Choices.

In years past when the making of clothes happened closer to home, people had fewer articles of clothing, as evidenced by the lack of closets in old houses. Now our closets are bulging. What is the cost to the environment and to the welfare of the workers, just so we can have so many clothes? I think we should begin to ask where our clothes come from, just like we ask where our food comes from. Meanwhile, you could take control of your closet. Read the labels in your clothes and learn more about their production. Think about opting out of corporate control of what you are wearing, as well as what you are eating.

If you are not going to be growing your own fiber, seek out those who do. Visit Fibershed and support local production. If the prices of clothing handmade by others is too steep for you, learn to make your own. The cost for my new vest was minimal and I have a one-of-a-kind item. You could learn to sew or maybe knit a scarf or a pair of socks. If making your own is definitely out of the question, learn about companies who have taken these concerns to heart, such as TS Designs. For their Cotton of the Carolinas brand t-shirt, everything from dirt to shirt happens within 600 miles and all in the Carolinas. Their American Soil Organic t-shirts are made from USA grown certified organic cotton. There are so many exciting things to do in this world to make it a better place. And just think, it could start with what you choose to wear.

Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



6/9/2015

 

Although I raised vegetables in my mother’s back yard through high school and several years of college, planting it all one evening in late April and coming back, a month later, for the summer growing season, my first real garden was three washtubs, spray-painted yellow, blue, and red, on my back patio in Boston, Massachusetts. I was in graduate school, without a yard, and too old to travel home weekends to tend my old patch, which was growing up in mint. I planted a cucumber in one tub, marigolds in the second, and a cherry tomato in the third. The tomato was for my boyfriend—I did not like tomatoes. I mean, who would—hard pink things with no flavor that they were. They added color to an iceburg lettuce salad, but nothing else. All three crops grew beautifully in the warm protected space.

I remember that patio tomato regularly when I walk into my lush backyard to survey the gardens and when I dream, occasionally, about moving out of town onto our own forty acre farm, complete with orchard and goats and a big dog. Maybe we will, but I really doubt it. We like walking to the library and grocery store too much to leave our little house in town. And not everybody can live in the country—but everyone can bring some of that country, that producing your own food, setting yourself up for the winter, reducing your dependence on outside forces dream to wherever they live right now.

Start Small

• Shop at the Farmer’s Market. Learn four recipes for the uncommon vegetables, like winter squash, kale and chard, fennel, and parsnips.
• Make some jam and applesauce from foraged fruit. Use a big pasta pot to seal the jars. If that goes well, buy a steam canner and some more jars.
• Stash a few squashes under the bed for the winter. Expand to onions.
• Pot up some herbs for the back patio. If you can, plant them in terra cotta and sink them into the ground for the summer. Raise tomatoes and lettuce in pots.
• Plant a community garden plot. Tend it all summer.
• Dream…ride your bike to the public library and read.

If you do these things, you will be, first of all, living a version of the dream today, rather than waiting for perfection in the future. And, if you ever do acquire that forty acre farm with the sraw bale house, you will already have many of the skills you need to succeed.

The Recipe, from The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two (The 1982 Version)

Italian Potato and Cheese Casserole

Ingredients:

• 2 pounds of potatoes, peeled, chunked, and lightly boiled
• 6 tbsp of melted butter
• 1.5 pounds of ripe tomatoes, sliced
• Salt, pepper, and fresh basil
• 2/3 pound of mozzarella cheese, sliced
• 6 hard boiled eggs
• 2/3 cup of chopped fresh parsley
• 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese

Directions:

1. Spread 2 tablespoons of butter in the casserole dish.

2. Layer potatoes, tomatoes, salt/pepper/basil, then repeat.

3. Spread the sliced cheese over the top.

4. Peel and chop the eggs, mix with parsley, butte, and a bit of salt and pepper.

5. Layer over mozzarella, then sprinkle the Parmesan over all.

Bake in a 350degree Farrenheit oven for about half an hour.

To read more about the Twenty First Street Urban Homestead, check out my blog at 21st Street Urban Homestead. To see more of Julia Lont’s amazing artwork, go to her website and Blue Camas Press.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



6/3/2015

Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement spotlights 18 Oregon farms and farm supporters who are committed to a return to ecologically sound agricultural practices. This group reflects the diversity of people, both young and old, who are reshaping our state’s food system and reclaiming our right to eat well. In their stories you will hear how they came to be where they are, learn something about the challenges they face, and share their happiness at the successes they’ve enjoyed thus far. The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future.

Mario DiBenedetto with tomato plants

Read Peace Seedlings, Part 1.

One very important thing both Dylana Kapuler and Mario DiBenedetto have gained from their informal apprenticeship with Dylana’s father, Dr. Alan Kapuler, is a broad-based foundation of practical field experience they most likely would not have garnered from a university degree. The agricultural departments of most land grant colleges have followed the money represented by industrial agriculture in the same way businesses do. This is because university research dollars come from the large agrochemical companies or the government agencies run by former agrochemical company employees. Because of this fact, they reflect the industry they are supporting, which is an industry of specialization.

When agriculture is run as a mechanized industry, it functions in a manner similar to a giant assembly line with every person doing their one specialized task. For that reason, a college student studying plant breeding might spend his or her entire time focused on a single factor within a specific market. Alan Kapuler recognized that and thus encouraged actual field work.

“To us, college just doesn’t make much sense,” says Dylana. “First, of course, there’s the debt. Why would we want to go into debt to do something we can do right here? And from what I’ve seen, those kids are completely focused on just one type of something the whole time. One strain of barley. Or barley just for beer. Or barley just for something else. They spend their whole time at the university working on some professor’s project that’s not even their own work and they come away with this narrow bit of knowledge about a subject as broad as plant diversity. With virtually no field experience. Doesn’t make sense to me. I can definitely see why my dad gives what we do such props.”

Peace Seedlings test gardens

Mario adds, “And the resources they waste. When you go look at their greenhouses, the lights are on in the middle of the day and they’re growing oats in the wintertime. There’s so much space and energy and resources being put into it, I hope it’s doing someone some good, because otherwise it’s just unforgivably wasteful.”

“But we’re mostly talking about plant breeding,” explains Dylana. “About getting real experience living within a truly diverse ecosystem and working through each year’s cycles and watching what really happens in this particular environment. Seeing which plants succeed and how they adapt. We do understand that universities offer some very important training that you can only get there. We talked earlier about analyzing amino acids or other nutritional qualities… we can’t do that here and that work needs to be done even more than it is now.”

Mario continued with Dylana’s comments about studying what is happening in front of you… paying attention to how plants are adapting in nature. It was a point both of them kept coming back to… allowing plants to adapt to the environment. The breeder’s goal, they believe, should be to limit external inputs, which include things like excess fertilizer, to the extent possible and allow plants to grow by themselves within a diverse ecosystem. Some plants will do better than other plants. So if the seed from successful plants is saved, the grower will have a better chance of succeeding with that plant the next year because the parent plant was already successful within those growing conditions. Every farmer wants – or should want – plants that are vigorous without high inputs because it makes good sense, both ethically and economically.

Peace Seedlings zinnia variety

Another way Mario and Dylana are attempting to bring economic benefits to the marketplace are through the introduction of new types of food plants, especially root tubers from the Andean region of South America. They have been growing yacon, oca, and mashua for a number of years, and because the plants are so prolific, they have become Peace Seedlings’ biggest product, both in sales and in weight.

“The Andean people had an amazing food culture,” says Dylana. “They grew more root vegetables and different taxa than anybody. I mean potatoes came from them, of course. But they also grew oca, which are tuberous oxalis, mashua, a tuberous rooted nasturtium, and yacon, which is an edible rooted daisy related to sunflowers and such. And oh my gosh, the list just goes on.”

Mario adds, “They have something like a dozen different tuberous rooted food plants in a dozen different families. I feel they are some of the best farmers and food plant developers in the world. Andean foods have provided important staple foods to cultures all over the world.”

Adding these unique root vegetables to its product line provides Peace Seedlings with a revenue source that helps make their business more viable for the long term. Which is important, because now that Mario and Dylana have gained the ability to successfully maintain heirlooms and introduce useful new varieties of seed, they’re still novices at the business of running a business. Currently, like their personalities and outlook, their business practices are unconventional, even with seemingly straightforward decisions like how many seeds to include in each packet they sell.

Mario explains, “Most seed companies state how many seeds are in each packet, and they include pretty much exactly that number. We list a quantity also, but we view that as a minimum. If we’ve got plenty of seed, we’ll just add extra to each packet. I mean, you don’t want to waste good seed. And usually, we’ve got plenty. We just list the minimum in case we don’t get a good crop or a bird swoops in and eats several hundred starts… which happens sometimes. That’s just kind of how we do business. I guess there’s still a lot we need to learn about the business side of things.”

After a short discussion about marketing topics, I ask them both if they plan to do this forever. The answer shouldn’t have surprised me.

“We’re not really the type of people to make that strong of a statement,” said Mario. “In general we see ourselves doing this type of work, but we see everyday how much adaptation is just a part of this world, so we understand that applies to us, too. So it’s hard to know. But we hope that we’re able to keep this land and keep doing this work for a lot longer.”

Get your copy of Planting a Future: Profiles from Oregon's New Farm Movement.

(top) photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Mario DiBenedetto displaying one of his company's tomato varieties.

(middle) photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Peace Seedlings test gardens are located on several acres just outside of Corvallis, Oregon.

(bottom) photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Peace Seedlings offer many outstandingly beautiful varieties of flowers, particularly marigolds and zinnias.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



6/1/2015

Start a Farmers Market 

When I moved to my little town over 11 years ago, there was hardly a farmers market to speak of. The market that did exist took place in a dusty, sun-baked parking lot at the edge of town. Market hours were from 9am to 1pm on a Tuesday—not prime shopping hours for most 9-to-5 working types. Needless to say, consumer participation was low.

Vendors at the market were in short supply. There were five tables: three vegetable growers and two crafters. The growers and crafters that participated were not local (other than one), and the produce they furnished was likely (based off of its appearance) something that didn't sell at the nearby Saturday market and so was trucked back to the farm, reconstituted in water and held until the following Tuesday in marginal refrigeration. Not exactly the awe-inspiring display one wants to see when taking the time to shop local.

Challenges Joining a Farmers Market

In those days, the market that existed was an off-shoot of a larger organization located nearly 25 miles to the East of us. There was an absentee market manager, no advertising, awful signage and the impression that our town’s produce needs really weren't all that important to anyone in charge. It was dismal.

Back then, my husband and I were newbie farmers…well, more like over-producing backyard growers who were tight on cash. On a whim, we contacted the market board to see if it was worth our time to participate in our “local” market. The short answer, after reading through the fine print and seeing the vendor fees, was a resounding “no.” There was no incentive for local small producers to participate in the market process. Discouraged, we searched for a better outlet for our abundance.

Fast forward one year in time: Our small backyard enterprise had since grown into a 1.5-acre mini-farming operation and we were desperate to establish some steady markets for our crops. I attended a farm-to-table event in a nearby town and was introduced to several other young growers, plus a slew of agency staff. As we were departing the venue, one of my new acquaintances hinted at the idea of creating a new farmers market and was actively recruiting participants. This is how, nearly 8 years ago, I was pulled into the market creation process.

6 Steps to Start a Farmers Market

Here are a few of the things that I have learned

1. Farmers markets can be contentious; prepare for a fight (even if you aren't looking for one). This was a huge eye-opener to me. Who wouldn't want a successful market in their town? Apparently (and obviously) anyone involved with the other market that already existed. To be fair, in our effort to keep from reinventing the wheel, we approached the board of the original market and asked if they would allow us to become our own, self-governing entity. They very vocally and rudely declined. As part of our community outreach, we held a public meeting to discuss the possibility of creating an additional market in town, allowing the original market to continue to exist but adding a second market on a different day that would be run by our new entity.

During and leading up to the public meeting, members of the original market board were openly slanderous and vocal about their dissent and went to lengths to discredit our planning efforts (including setting up several secret meetings with city officials, placing anti-market ads in the local papers and even placing anti-market radio spots).

Fortunately for us, the positive support we received from the remainder of the community was enough to convince the City to issue a second permit allowing us to create a farmers market independent of the first market without forcing the shutdown of the original market in the process. From our perspective, this was the closest thing to a win; let the customers decide where their allegiances would lie.

2. Be prepared for internal growing pains and choose a strong group leader. As with any new entity, there were massive differences in opinion about the best way to organize ourselves. The most well-intentioned neighbors and volunteers were, at times, reduced to yelling matches over our boardroom table. Items as simple as choosing a name or the day of the week and timing for the market became heated debates. In those early stages, we lost many participants because of the strain of these decisions. It was only with the designation of a strong group leader that we were able to make it through these formative decisions into the real meat of setting up a market: bi-laws, market rules and a budget.

3. Research other markets for guidance on rule making and budgeting. All markets are not created equally. When starting a new market from the ground up, you will be faced with decisions that set the tone for your market’s “feel,” which will ultimately be its identity.

Will you allow re-sale? What will your crafter-to-vendor ratio be? How much will you charge for stall fees? What will the ratio be of vegetables to fruits? Will you allow GMO crops? How will you handle nonprofit booths? Will you host live music?

We were fortunate to have a strong and engaged group of rule-makers who were willing to do the research and legwork the first time around that led to the construction of a strong framework of bi-laws, market rules and operating budget. Over the years, there have been some adjustments to our original bi-laws (For example, our inaugural board was limited to seven members but has since been increased to 11.). But for the most part, the original framework remains unchanged.

The strength of this ground floor rule-making has allowed for the smooth transition between the original board members and all new board participants. Our documentation has always been strong and transparent, making it easy for a new member to come up to speed on the reasoning behind each of the rules or regulations.

4. Foster a good relationship with city officials and community members. Our little town has many regulations regarding signage and setbacks that added some complication to our application process. Fortunately, our board members have always been on good terms with city officials and an open channel of dialog has kept us relatively free from controversy. This isn't exactly an easy task. Shop owners in town have felt threatened by the market from the very beginning and constantly nag the city to limit the reach of the market. This includes limiting prepared food, wine sampling, crafting etc…anything that may be viewed as “competition” to the other downtown businesses.

Because of our strong relationship with the city and our ability to concede on much smaller issues (such as signage regulation) we have been able to continue the growth of the market with little regulatory impediment. Our strong commitment to our community and their strong commitment to us has allowed us leverage when negotiating larger political potholes, such as lobbying for free parking on market nights. In a town where revenue is intimately tied to parking fees, this concession by the city would not have been possible without our strong community base of supporters.

5. Hire a good Market Manager. The Market Manager is the mouthpiece of the market board. He or she is the face of the market that the community and your vendors are most intimately involved with. It is therefore important to hire the right person for the job.

The manager should be personable, responsible, strict (yes, strict) and tireless. Fortunately for us, we found the right candidate our very first season. Our manager arrives early and leaves late. He is the voice of our radio spots, organizes the pre-season vendor meeting, sets up signage and amplification, marks out booth locations, keeps our vendor ratios favorable, manages disputes and directs traffic during vendor un-loading and loading. Essentially, he rallies the troops and keeps us in line without alienating a soul. To show our appreciation as a board, we have built into our budget an annual salary review and bonus process. This has kept the working relationship between the board and the manager strong.

6. Hire a bookkeeper. Originally, bookkeeping duties were the job of our board Treasurer. What became apparently obvious as members of the board reached the end of their term was that the hardest transition to keep seamless was the finances. This was due, in part, to the heavy workload involved with both maintaining the books and then explaining the system to a newcomer. We made the unanimous decision to work into our budget a little extra money allocated for external bookkeeping services. This has taken pressure off of our volunteer board and keeps our bookkeeping from becoming sloppy.

Looking Forward 

We are now entering our 9th market season. Much has changed over the years and I feel fortunate to be involved in a market that does not seem to be going away any time soon (That original Tuesday market didn't last more than another season after the formation of our new Thursday evening market).

In fact, participation continues to grow, with a wait list of potential vendors and ever-increasing consumer participation. The strength of our market regularly attracts customers from as far as 100 miles away and our vendors receive frequent praise about the quality of the market experience. Most certainly, there will be future challenges that are yet to be anticipated. But for the most part, the decisions we made early on in our formation have proven to be sound ones. I can only hope that some of you who will be undergoing a similar process can find guidance from the words that have been written here today.

Photo by Leah Hemberry Ricketts

If you would like to read more from Eron including essays, past garden-related articles and more, please visit her personal blog, Farmertopia. If you would like to be connected with her farm, please follow the Tierra Garden Organics Facebook page or visit the Tierra Learning Center website. For more information on farming activism in North Central Washington, check out the FARMY Facebook page.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



5/27/2015

I have evidently gone crazy for berries. Every spring I have been adding more edibles to my landscape and garden, and the past couple of years the focus has been berries – blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi berries, goji berries, and honeyberries. If I have to pay a water bill to maintain my landscape, it may as well be for edibles so I can reduce my grocery bill – plus the food is organic and as fresh as it gets.

Blueberries

Blueberries

I started with blueberries planted in containers several years ago. The reason for containers was that I live in the High Desert region of Southern California and the soil is on the alkaline side of the pH scale. Blueberries really like acidic soil – as low as 4.5. With the containers, it is much easier to manage the soil by starting with a quality organic potting mix and bypassing the native soil all together. I recently moved all of the blueberries into some of my raised beds, which are simply bigger containers, in an effort to reduce some of my water usage during the historic drought that is affecting California. I had veggies planted in the raised beds previously. I reduced the quantity of veggies in order to make space for the berries and other perennials, thus eliminating the containers from needing to be watered.

The original blueberry plants were picked up at Home Depot a few years ago, I do not remember the variety, but they have grown and produced nicely. Last year I bought a couple more plants from OSH (Pink Lemonade and Misty). I also ordered three more (Elizabeth) online. I have to be careful when choosing blueberries to make sure they will grow in the desert’s climate – we are in USDA zone 8b – with the biggest concern being the summer heat, which I have seen as high as 117 F.

The blueberries are relatively easy care – I water them about every three days, fertilize them in early spring and summer, and lightly prune them in late winter or early spring. The fertilizer I usually use is Blueberries Alive, which provides the appropriate nutrients for blueberries and helps maintain the necessary acidity in the soil.

Strawberries

Strawberries

Like many folks, strawberries are one of my favorite summertime fruits. Last year I decided it was time to grow my own rather than spending plenty of dollars on fresh organic berries at the store or farmer’s market. I set up two pyramid-style beds, filled with organic potting mix, to be the new home for my strawberries. I chose two varieties – an ever-bearing and a June-bearing. With the ever-bearing, I can have fresh strawberries available from mid spring until fall, which is great for adding them to breakfast or a fruit salad. The June-bearing provide an abundance of sweet berries in a short amount of time, although this year that time occurred from late April through May. There might be a few more come June, but our weird weather caused them to produce early. No matter, the abundance at one time allows the ability to make a nice batch of jam, and to put plenty in the freezer for use in smoothies, etc. throughout the winter.

Strawberries, too, are easy to grow. They are watered every other day, and fertilized with an organic all-purpose fertilizer every couple of months – spring through summer. I have to trim off some of the runners periodically to keep them within the bounds of the bed. Also, they seem to be prone to a little damage from “Rolly Pollies”, which I manage with a treatment of Sluggo Plus every three or four weeks. During the winter, I trim them back to the ground and await new growth in early spring.

Blackberries

Blackberries

Blackberries bring back childhood memories of growing up in Oregon. I used to pick the tasty berries for my sister and I to make cobblers and pies – if they made it to the house without being completely devoured. The only thing I did not enjoy about the experience was the abundance of prickly thorns. When I decided to plant blackberries, I was sure pleased to discover that they came in thornless varieties. I purchased two Triple Crown thornless blackberries at Lowes last year, and planted them in large whiskey barrel containers. This year, I moved them from the containers into raised beds like I did with the blueberries. I evidently missed some of the roots, because there are still blackberry plants sprouting up among the roses that I transplanted to those containers. They are going nuts in the raised beds, too!

They take minimal care with some pruning in the winter, occasional fertilizing, and some water every two or three days. By the number of blooms and baby berries, it looks like I’ll be enjoying bunches of them this summer – I can’t wait for some cobbler!

Raspberries

Raspberries

So since I was on a berry kick, I ordered some raspberries (a yellow variety called Anne) online. They, to, were planted in containers and then moved to the raised beds. These grew nicely in the containers, but after I transplanted them they seriously took off and sprouted up new canes throughout the bed. I am thinking it’s a good thing they will be limited to the confines of the raised bed.

These take very little care – water every two to three days, a little fertilizer, and clipping their canes back in the winter.

There are ample blooms and berries, which I have been harvesting for a couple of weeks, and should continue throughout the summer. Not many of the berries have made it in the house as they are consumed before I leave the garden. A note on these berries is that they ripen really fast and do not keep very long. I recommend that if you grow these, and they make into the house, to include them in a meal or snack quickly or they will become soft and mushy within just a day.

Kiwi Berries

Kiwi Berries

I was first introduced to Kiwi Berries a few years ago when a package of them was included in my produce box from a co-op that I was a member of. The berries were great – just like baby kiwis without the “fur”. I decided to investigate the possibilities of growing them and discovered that they were cold hardy (to -40 F), unlike the regular kiwis that can’t take the cold (sometimes into the teens, and I’ve seen it down to 6 F) of the High Desert winters. They can take the summer heat if given some shade in the heat of the day.

I purchased six of them – four females and two males – from TerritorialSeed.com. I planted them in the desert soil along with some organic amendments on the side of one of my chicken coops with the idea of the vines climbing up the side to provide some color to the otherwise drab structure. They did not do well – I lost three of them and the others struggled. I dug them up from the desert soil and moved them to containers with organic potting mix, and placed them in the protected area near some of my raised beds. The area provides afternoon shade and some mesh-type fencing material for the vines to climb. This year they finally flowered, but failed to set fruit. I noticed a lack of pollinators, but it has been excessively windy this year so I am hoping that was the issue. I hope to see them with berries next year. I have been keeping the soil moist, not soggy, and have fertilized them each spring and summer.

Goji Berries and Honeyberries

Just this spring I ordered Goji Berries (Crimson Star) and Honeyberries (Berry Blue and Honey Sweet) via Amazon.com to expand the varieties of berries in my yard. I planted them in a raised bed and have fertilized them once. So far they have leafed out and have grown a couple of inches. I expect it will be another year or two before they begin to produce.

Goji Berries are considered a superfruit and grow in USDA zones 5 and higher. They prefer well-drained soil and full sun.

Honeyberries are a type of honeysuckle and get better production if you plant two different varieties. They are also considered a superfruit and are supposed to taste similar to blueberries. They prefer zones 2-7 and are hardy to -40 F. I am taking a bit of a risk with these since my zone is 8b, but they get some shade in the location they are in.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.












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