Upcoming Talk

Beautiful day on the farm yesterday and the leeks and fields were looking fine. That single wheel farm cart in the photo is a workhorse on the farm, super easy to load, unload and move large loads in tight spaces with it (if you pay attention to how it’s balanced).

I’m going to be speaking about customizing tools for efficiency (which is the same thing as ergonomics) at the Small Farm Tech Expo in Santa Rosa, California, in early December. Spread the word, I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned and hearing what other folks are doing while I’m down there.

On that note, I’ll be working in the Bay Area (based out of SF/Marin) for the week leading up to that, hoping to visit a few farms I’ve been admiring from afar, and maybe even a few I don’t know about yet.

Farm Hand Carts

The Farm Hand Carts website was hacked last summer and somehow I still haven’t managed to revive it. In the meantime I keep getting requests for the plans for how to build your own that I used to have there and it’s a shame that they’re not still up so I figured I’d post a quick version here until I can get around to restoring all of the information from the old site.

A photo showing the cart with a simple plywood flat bed with some cleats on the edges to keep it the bins from sliding off the edges. A flat bed like this is very effective for most situations and very easy to load. It lifts off for cleaning, or storage and is held in place by stiffening cleats (see photo below). One of the features of the cart is that as a simple frame you can have multiple platforms that simply sit on the frame – for example different beds for harvest and for hauling compost. I also make tools like rolling bed markers that go onto the frame.

The basic drawing, with dimensions, for the cart pictured above is linked to here. You can change any of the dimensions to match your farm – the two I suggest considering changing are the handle height and the space between the wheels (width of the cart). I set the handle height by measuring the distance to the ground from the tips of my fingers when I’m standing straight up. I want the handle just a few inches below that so I don’t have to bend over much to pick up the handle. For the width of the cart I set the distance between the centers of the wheels to match the distance between the centers of my planting beds. I don’t recommend changing the bed height much, but many people do. For hauling, the cart frame is designed to support a 48″ flat bed, measured from the front of the cart to the back. It should overhang the frame evenly on the front and back of the frame to create good balance and support for the plywood.

I make the carts out of 1 1/4 x .065 square tube and 1″ round tube with a similar wall thickness. The fork legs are 1 1/4 x .25 flat stock. It’s overbuilt, but the added stiffness from being overbuilt makes it easier to move and it’s not excessively heavy.

Here’s a photo from the underside of the cart showing the stiffening cleats that hold the flatbed on. You can also see how the plywood overhangs the frame. Cutting a handle in the flat bed makes it easier to remove for cleaning and storage and to move around when it’s not on the cart. This flatbed is actually mounted opposite of the direction I usually would put it on – I like to have the cleat that keeps the bins from sliding off in the back, away from the handle. The cart is easier to push than to pull in most situations.

The cart is designed to be used with standard 26″ mountain bike wheels that are commonly available. Yes, the wheels stick up a little over the frame but I don’t find that they get in my way and the bed of the cart sits just right for easy loading, but still having plenty of clearance. I double and triple stack bins on this cart and have no trouble moving it unless it’s over loaded (more than 300-400 pounds).

The weakest link on the cart is the wheels. They tend to buckle under very heavy load when the cart is going around a turn. Don’t overload the cart and they’ll be fine. If you do overload the cart, make sure the wheels are rolling in a straight line and aren’t getting much side loading (from going over big bumps, or going around turns quickly). If they do break, they’re easier and less expensive to replace than the cart frame itself.

This is a pretty simple welding project for learning on. There’s not a lot of cutting either. Have fun with it and I always love seeing photos of carts in action out there so if you build one please let me know and send me a photo. Thanks!

This is a photo of a slightly fancier adjustable cart that can be broken down flat, but it’s pretty much the same thing as the one above. It has a very undersized flat bed on it (we were just playing around here). This is one of the only photos I have with a person using one (Hi, Martin!) and it gives a little better sense of the scale. This particular cart is set with 4′ between the wheels. I’ve made had two runs of these made and there are about 15 or 20 of them out there on farms around the country that I’ve sold. I may build another run at some point. I know there are many more farm built versions from the plans above because I get emails from folks all over the world who have built them for themselves.

Winter Workshops

I just updated my workshops page with two conferences and a training program that I’ll be speaking at in California, Oregon and Louisiana. Hit the link to the page, or see below for more details.

The crop planning workshop in December and the CSA workshop at the BD conference in November were very fun for me thanks to great participants and organizers. There are a few more dates in the works and I’ll try to post those as soon as I know if they’re actually happening. Please come say hi if you see me out there on the road.

Upcoming workshops and talks:

  • EcoFarm, Pacific Grove, CA, Friday, January 25, 2019 – Compact Farms: 15 Proven Plans for Market Farms on 10 Acres or Less – revisiting farm profiles from the book and what makes them work.
  • Oregon Small Farms Conference, Corvallis, OR, Saturday, February 23, 2019 – I’ll be facilitating three workshops on compact farms with a number of experienced growers from around the country: Starting a Compact Farm, Cut Flowers on Compact Farms, and How Compact Farms Evolve.
  • Cultivating Small Farm Success, Alexandria, LA, Thursday, March 14, 2019 – Planning for a Successful Market Farm

2018 Numbers

Time for my annual accounting where I try to create a single number that says something meaningful about how the farm did financially. This year, more than the past few, I feel like it’s obvious that numbers in accounting are malleable and really don’t tell the full story without a lot of context.

The single number I like to put out each year is the dollars generated by the farm, per hour worked, after (non-labor) expenses. You can look back at last year, and years before that, by going to the blog post on 2017 Numbers. Here are the basic numbers for 2018:

  • Gross income – $39,712
  • Non-labor expenses – $8,247
  • Total hours worked – 1850

The basic math gives a net, pre-labor income of $31,465 for 1850 hours worked, which works out to $17.01 per hour.

That hourly number is before any payroll taxes, so if you’re trying to compare it to an actual hourly wage you need to lop off a chunk. Even so, we’re probably close to the $15/hr range, which feels pretty good, and actually gets us to the target minimum wage for this part of the country. Unfortunately, that still means that folks at the bottom of the pay scale are below that. We’re relatively flat in our pay structure and this year I was able to pay bonuses at the end of the season that made it even flatter.

These are very ball-park numbers even though they look exact. The gross income and hours worked are actually pretty exact, but it gets a little fuzzier when we look at expenses.

I’ve included some non-cash expenses in the expenses – essentially depreciation on equipment like the walk behind tractor and implements, and other structures. I’m pretty consistent about this in my own calculations, and it helps to even out the picture in years that have drastically different investment levels in tools and infrastructure. Beware that if you’re comparing to your numbers our methods might not match.

This year looks better than the past few and here are my best guesses on the reasons why. The primary reason is luck. A lot of things lined up for us this year: the weather was pretty good, we had great folks working with us who were available at the right times, and we were able to sell most of what we produced with very little waste. Certainly we set ourselves up to take advantage of those kinds of conditions, but even with experience (and partly because of experience) I know that there was an element of luck that certainly helped and we won’t have that every year.

Another factor that’s making the 2018 number look better than previous years is that we went really lean on expenses this year – something that probably isn’t sustainable. We weren’t sure if it was going to be our last year on the property (turns out it looks like we’ll get another year, maybe more) so we relied heavily on the tools, seeds and supplies we had on hand and didn’t have to spend much on non-labor expenses. I actually invested in a few tools for 2019 right at the end of the year but I didn’t put those expenses into the above numbers. If I had they would drive the non-labor expenses up by almost $2000. That changes the hourly number to $15.93. With luck, those investments in tools will improve our efficiency enough to pay back at least a portion of that $2000, and they should probably also be depreciated as they will mostly all last numerous years.

A few final pieces of context here. You can go to cullyneighborhoodfarm.com to get a better sense of the scale and practices of the farm. We’re growing on a lot that’s just under an acre, with just over ½ an acre in production. We’re not pushing our production particularly hard relative to many compact farms. Nearly all of income comes from CSA shares, but do make a little on top of that from some mid-season farmers market sales, by selling extras straight from the farm.

I’d love to see this same basic analysis from other farms and I welcome ideas for improvements to my method.

Corn and Beans for Sale!

I’ve made a new page for crop sales here – but I’m also posting all of the information here, just below. If you’re interested in getting a little corn read on and order soon, quantities available are quite small.

corn and beans
Clockwise from the top: Piatella, Dakota Black raw and popped, Otto File, Pigna, Tolosaka, and in the center is Sorana.

UPDATE 12/13 – Less than 24 hours after posting this I’m sold out of the popcorn and Pigna beans but we still have a small quantity of the Tolosaka, Piatella and Sorana beans available, and plenty of Otto File corn. If you already ordered I’ll be sending order confirmations this afternoon. Thanks for all the orders and keep ’em coming!

The 2018 crop of Dakota Black popcorn and a small offering of dry beans is up for sale for a limited window, and I also have some remaining Otto File polenta corn from the 2017 season. These were all grown at Cully Neighborhood Farm in NE Portland.

Here’s the price list and descriptions of the offerings, ordering info is at the bottom of the page:

Dakota Black Popcorn

$6 a bag (2 cups of whole kernels, a bit more than ¾ pound) – Most of this went to our CSA at Cully Neighborhood Farm this year but we had a number of odd shaped ears with perfectly good kernels on them so I shelled those and I’m offering them here. I just popped a batch yesterday and it continues to be excellent with a high percentage of popped kernels that come out medium sized, bright white and with great fresh popcorn flavor, not at all like the big stale stuff you get in most bulk bins.

Otto File Polenta Corn

$4 a bag (2 cups of whole kernels, a bit more than ¾ pound) – A few years ago I was in Italy and visited a wonderful little biodyanamic market farm in Lucca. The farmer gave me an ear of his golden polenta corn (otto file, meaning eight rows in english – because there are eight rows of kernels on the slender cobs). I ended up planting it in my garden and it made amazing polenta – tons of corn flavor, beautiful golden color, slightly sweet – so I grew more. I use a relatively simple Corona hand mill to grind mine as I need it, but there are many other options out there.  It can also be cooked whole.

Dry Beans 

$6 a bag (2 cups of dry beans) these are all specialty varieties of dry beans and I only have very limited quantities. If you’ve only ever had canned dry beans, or beans from the bulk section, these are a completely different experience. They are cook easily and evenly and have an extra layer of flavor. In general these all have delicate skins and cook well by soaking overnight, bringing to a boil and the gently simmering for 45 minutes to an hour. Add salt and other seasoning to taste, generally about 1-2 teaspoons of salt per bag. Be sure to save the cooking liquid which is delicious. Variety descriptions follow…

Tolosaka

This is my name for the tolosa black bean, which I’ve been growing since 2007. This is a beautiful, large, deeply black bean that is from the Basque region of Spain. Look it up, apparently it’s famous. I just know it’s delicious and one of my favorites.

Pigna

Another one I’ve been growing since 2007. A large round white bean originally from Spain but also grown in Italy. It’s a Slow Food Ark variety and you might try to find it from the Italian growers if you really like it and support their efforts to keep it growing in its traditional areas.

Sorana

A great little white bean, very tender and tasty. Lane Selman and I brought this back from Italy by request for Uprising Seeds in 2014 and they shared seeds from their first grow out with me the following year. I’ve been growing it for the past two seasons and it’s quickly becoming a favorite for its great flavor. It’s a Slow Food Ark variety and you might try to find it from the Italian growers if you really like it and support their efforts to keep it growing in it’s traditional areas.

Piattella

Quantities are extra limited for this flat, white bean. I got this one from a grower in Italy who also uses corn for trellising. It’s a Slow Food Ark variety and you might try to find it from the Italian growers if you really like it and support their efforts to keep it growing in it’s traditional areas.

Ordering

All orders are packed here in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, OR and are available for pick up on my porch. To order Send me an email (by clicking on “send me an email”) with your order including the items you’d like and the quantities. I’ll send you the details for the pick up location, how to pay, and when your order will be ready (usually in a day or two). I’ll be packing orders through December 21, 2018 before taking a break for the holidays, or until I sell out.

 

 

Upcoming Workshops

Getting ready to speak at the Mother Earth News Fair in Belton, TX, last weekend.

It’s been a busy conference season for me, five in less than two months and two more coming up before the first week of March.

The Oregon Small Farms Conference is this Saturday. It’s one of the best conferences I go to anywhere in the country. I think part of that is that it’s really focused on Oregon and small farms. It’s only one day, but the day is full of quality talks that relate directly to production issues. I’ll be co-presenting in a session on Vegetable Pack Shed Layout and Ergonomics with Nick Andrews, Heidi Noordijk, and Andrea Kramer. My piece will largely be around the three pieces of equipment that I prototyped for their new pack shed, all written up over at joshvolk.com: an adjustable height spray table, a tote washer, and a packing table. The conference is sold out, but if you’re already signed up, come see our talk and we’re planning on having the prototypes there, along with the trailer that’s been converted into a cooler that Nick and Heidi made.

Not sold out yet (as far as I know), is a day long workshop I’m doing for SnoValley Tilth up in Carnation, Washington. The workshop is titled “Efficiency and Ergonomics on the Farm: Setting up tools, systems, and work spaces for speed, safety and happiness” and I think that pretty much covers it. Thanks to a generous donor the price is incredibly low so if you’re in the area it should definitely be worth checking out. I’m going to be mixing it up with both slides and hands on demos.

I’m trying to keep my workshops page up to date with upcoming talks as they get added. I also try to repost new additions here on the blog and on my Facebook page so you can keep track of where to see me by checking any of those spots.

2017 Numbers

Every year I take a look back at the previous year to see how we did and what I want to do better in the following year. Part of the analysis I’ve been doing is to add up the gross income and then subtract out the non-labor expenses. This gives me a net for all of the hours of work that went into the farm. Then I add up all of the hours worked and divide. This gives me a net per labor hour.

You can look back at my write up from last year to get a more detailed explanation of how I’ve been doing this over the years (and links to more write ups from years past). Instead of making this a long post I’ll just refer you back there for the explanation.

In 2017 I worked with Matt Gordon at Cully Neighborhood Farm again. We grew for 60-ish CSA members, and sold a little excess produce through the Cully Neighborhood Farmers Market. We grossed about $36,500 on about 1/2 acre so roughly $73,000 per acre, down very slightly from 2016. The non-labor expenses was about $10,000. Adding in the depreciated BCS expense brings that number up to about $10,940, a little under 30% of gross so we were able to keep the expenses down this year, despite making some infrastructure improvements that really improved ergonomics on the farm. The total hours worked on the farm, including marketing and administration, field work and everything else, was about 1910 hours, so we cut that back a little as well. That gives a (pre-tax) dollar per hour number of around $13.40 across the farm, up almost 4% from last year, which was better than inflation so I think we’re making progress.

For those with an eagle eye, you’ll probably notice that we’re right around Oregon’s minimum wage when you adjust for a “loaded” hourly wage (one that includes payroll taxes). Still, the bottom line is that for now I’m happy with that number for 2017 and we’ll take that information, along with the rest of the numbers we’ve collected and see if we can continue to improve in 2018.

Corn, Beans and Squash for Sale!

Corn, Beans and Squash
Marina Di Chioggia Squash, Otto File Corn, and (L-R) Pigna, Tolosaka, Sorana, and Piattella beans

The 2017 crop of Marina Di Chioggia winter squash, Otto File polenta corn and a small offering of dry beans is finally for sale. These were all grown at Cully Neighborhood Farm in NE Portland. I also have a small quantity of Choclero corn from the 2016 season, grown at the old NE Simpson St. site.

Here’s the price list and descriptions of the offerings, ordering info is at the bottom of the page:

Marina Di Chioggia

$2/lb – This is a very tasty winter squash that stores well and is in its prime from December through February. It’s sweet, smooth, and medium moist. It works well both for savory dishes (soups, savory tarts, stuffed squash, etc), and desserts (pies, quick breads, cookies, etc). I have a range of sizes from approximately 5-12 pounds. The two pictured are close to 8 pounds (estimate approximately 1/2 – 1 lb per serving depending on the dish, cooked flesh freezes well too).

Otto File Polenta Corn

$4 a bag (2 cups of whole kernels, a bit more than ¾ pound – 25 pounds total inventory – bulk pricing available) – A few years ago I was in Italy and visited a wonderful little biodyanamic market farm in Lucca. The farmer gave me an ear of his golden polenta corn (otto file, meaning eight rows in english – because there are eight rows of kernels on the slender cobs). I ended up planting it in my garden and it made amazing polenta – tons of corn flavor, beautiful golden color, slightly sweet – so I grew more. It can also be cooked whole.

Choclero Corn 

$4 a bag (2 cups of whole kernels, a bit more than ¾ pound – 10 pounds total inventory – bulk pricing available) – Normally eaten fresh, like sweet corn, I dried some of the fat ears I grew in 2016 and found they make a very tender corn flour when ground. The flour can be used as polenta, but it’s soft enough for pastry too and makes a delicious crust when mixed with a bit of wheat four, olive oil, salt and water. I got the original seed to trial from Bill Tracy at UW Madison. This is a typical corn in tropical latitudes, but he’s worked with a company that is breeding it to grow in temperate latitudes. It’s a hybrid so the seed does not grow true, but it is delicious! It can also be soaked and cooked whole to add sweet corn flavor to dishes (with emphasis on the “corn” and not on the often overwhelming “sweet”).

Dry Beans 

$6 a bag (2 cups of dry beans) these are all specialty varieties of dry beans and I only have very limited quantities. If you’ve only ever had canned dry beans, or beans from the bulk section, these are a completely different experience. They are cook easily and evenly and have an extra layer of flavor. In general these all have delicate skins and cook well by soaking overnight, bringing to a boil and the gently simmering for 45 minutes to an hour. Add salt and other seasoning to taste, generally about 1-2 teaspoons of salt per bag. Be sure to save the cooking liquid which is delicious. Variety descriptions follow…

Pigna

Another one I’ve been growing since 2007. A large round white bean originally from Spain but also grown in Italy. It’s a Slow Food Ark variety and you might try to find it from the Italian growers if you really like it and support their efforts to keep it growing in its traditional areas.

Tolosaka

Update 12/20 – sold out –This is my name for the tolosa black bean, which I’ve been growing since 2007. This is a beautiful, large, deeply black bean that is from the Basque region of Spain. Look it up, apparently it’s famous. I just know it’s delicious and one of my favorites.

Sorana

Update 12/20 – sold out –A great little white bean, very tender and tasty. Lane Selman and I brought this back from Italy by request for Uprising Seeds in 2014 and they shared seeds from their first grow out with me the following year. I’ve been growing it for the past two seasons and it’s quickly becoming a favorite for its great flavor. It’s a Slow Food Ark variety and you might try to find it from the Italian growers if you really like it and support their efforts to keep it growing in it’s traditional areas.

Piattella

Update 12/15 – sold out – Quantities are extra limited for this flat, white bean. I got this one from a grower in Italy who also uses corn for trellising. It’s a Slow Food Ark variety and you might try to find it from the Italian growers if you really like it and support their efforts to keep it growing in it’s traditional areas.

Ordering

All orders are packed here in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, OR and are available for pick up on my porch. Squash is also available in the Cully Neighborhood. To order Send me an email (by clicking on “send me an email”) with your order including the items you’d like and the quantities. I’ll send you the details for the pick up location, how to pay, and when your order will be ready (usually in a day or two).

 

 

Upcoming Talks

Slow Food Nations Compact Farm Tour visiting City Yard Farms in Denver, CO

 

I have a few workshops and talks coming up in the next two weeks so I thought I should update the workshops page. First I’ll be in Albany, OR for the Mother Earth News Fair this weekend, both Saturday and Sunday. On Thursday I fly east and I’ll be in Lenox, MA for a bookstore event on Friday evening followed by a workshop at the NOFA Summer Conference in Amherst on Saturday. If you’re in the area please come see me and say hi, alway nice to connect with folks in far away places.

Later in September I’m also going to be part of two weed control talks at Small Farm School which is a collaboration between Clackamas Community College and Oregon State University Small Farms Program. In November I’m planning on heading to Indiana for a talk, details to follow at some point. I’m sure there’ll be more for the winter, but that’s all the updates for now on upcoming talks and workshops.

The photo above is from the amazing Slow Food Nations event that happened in Denver last month. I felt really honored to be invited to help lead a tour of compact farms and to do a book reading as part of the enormous event. Sounds like Slow Food is going to put the event on next year – I was very impressed an highly recommend it if you’re wanting to connect with folks from all over the country, and the world, and be inspired by the work they’re doing to in producing and promoting good, clean and fair food. In my free time I went to a number of workshops on indigenous food systems and food justice, two topics I’m particularly interested in, and really part of the reason I started farming in the first place.

Besides giving talks I’m staying plenty busy trying to farm and designing some tools. I’m hoping to have some tool updates soon, including shipping options for the hand carts (farmhandcarts.com) and some designs for ergonomic furniture for wash/pack areas on small farms.

Farm Planning for a Successful Season

If you’re down in southern Oregon I’d love to see you next month at my half day farm planning workshop. I’ll be going over my methods for creating an easy to follow seasonal crop plan, how to take that plan and consider years long rotations, and how to figure out what tools and labor are needed to make it all work.

There’s no time like the present to start thinking about how to improve your planning for next season. Collecting data and information this season will pay off in creating plans for the next one.

The workshop is in conjunction with Rogue Farm Corps and will be held at Wild Wines in the beautiful Applegate Valley. The target audience are advanced level apprentices in the Rogue Farm Corps program, but I’m opening it up to everyone and there should be good stuff in there for market farmers at most levels who are looking to improve their plans.

The workshop is Monday, June 5, 9-1pm. Cost per person is $75. More details are on the flyer posted here.

To Register: Contact Megan Fehrman at Rogue Farm Corps by phone: 503-622-0161 or
email: megan@roguefarmcorps.org