Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Safe Seed Pledge

We sent off our first lot of a new corn we were excited to offer this year, Oaxacan Green Dent, which has been out of organic production for a while, for GMO testing a couple months ago and were a bit startled to get a positive result back from the lab. Well... a little startled and a little not. I think people are not aware how widespread contamination is and if you are the type that cares about good clean food this is scary stuff. There has been something around for a while called the "safe seed pledge" which basically states that a company does not knowingly sell GMO seeds. We have signed it, as have many of the companies you probably buy seeds from. But, the most important word in that pledge is "knowingly".
We are able to test for GMO contamination easily now. If you just care about a qualitative yes/no contamination, it costs about $200 per sample of 5# of corn and is accurate to 1 in 10,000 seeds. Unless the pledge incorporates some accountability of trying to know it does not really strike us as all that relevant anymore. Good intentions can only go so far. Our contaminated stock seed came from a company that has signed the pledge.
This has been a bit of a rabbit hole for us as we have been forced to deal with the implications of our contaminated lot. As we've begun to ask around it turns out that for most companies, very little testing is happening. The NOP that governs organic standards for certification has a zero tolerance on GMO contaminated seeds but does not require testing, which when you put the two together amounts to pretty much a negative incentive for testing. There are others in the industry who have embraced "acceptable thresholds" of contamination. This has been the preferred route of the Non-GMO project.
Wait, what?
That Non-GMO certified stamp on products at your local co-op doesn't mean... um... no GMO's? Correct. We were surprised too. Turns out "a very little bit" is the new "no".
There has been a concerted effort by the biotech industry to totally overwhelm certain sectors of agriculture with GMO's to the point that they create a perception that we simply can't get away from them. The idea of "acceptable thresholds" strikes us as the greenwashing of an accepted defeat. GMO contamination is not "reality", we create that, no?
My point in writing this is not doom and gloom but just to let you know that this isn't an issue that the seed industry is really taking on or pushing very hard at right now. Don't leave it up to us (collectively). Its going to be consumer driven if a stance is going to happen.
A story...A couple years ago Territorial Seeds was the unfortunate victim of a misled campaign. Someone misconstrued their selling seeds bred and sold by Seminis (a subsidiary of Monsanto) to mean they were owned by Monsanto. Misled, yes. But they took A LOT of flack for this and got A LOT of bad publicity, and due to customer pressure, as of 2012, completely dropped all varieties they had been getting from Seminis. This is a big deal and they deserve a lot of respect for that. Now the moral here is not that you concoct a BS story as a means to achieve your end, but it is that companies listen. While the rumor was entirely false, consumers who maybe had thought seed companies grew all the seeds they sold started to think about the seed industry in a new way, started seeing the supply chain and didn't like what they saw or who they were supporting. They expressed their desire to have a company they trusted not be involved with Monsanto anymore, and the company acted.
Start asking your favorite seed companies about what they are doing to keep GMO contamination out of our seed supply. Ask them if they test corn and beet lots and what happens if the lots test positive. Ask if they've gone the extra step and Knowingly do not sell GMO contaminated seeds.
We need to take this seriously. Pollen travels and the more contaminated lots of seed that are in the marketplace, the fewer places we have to produce clean seeds.
We are working with Seed Savers Exchange to get a clean and tested lot of the Oaxacan corn to start with 'cause its a beauty. Like... dazzlingly beautiful... and just an awesome flour corn for tortillas and posole. We look forward to bringing it to market soon.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring is the time for (greenhouse) love

Time to resurrect the blog! We will try to begin using this medium again to share ideas about what we do and why we do it. We hope you will check in from time to time. This is not a poetic return to the world of Blog, but hopefully a useful utilitarian one.

Looks like another La Niña spring is upon us. while the farm tries to figure out where to put more water we are beginning to work in the greenhouse. We don't really believe in pushing the season too hard on our farm. We shoot for the first week of March for onions and leeks, peppers and eggplants. About the 15th for tomtoes (though I sowed several varieties today). We've found that those dates get the plants big enough to hit the soil running when its time for the field, but not so big that they are rootbound, leggy, and nutrient stressed when its transplant time.

I thought it would be appropriate to share a recipe for potting mix, as much of our energy is in growing starts for transplant right now. The vast majority of premixed bagged potting soil is incredibly deficient when it comes to nourishing the initial growth of our plants. Unless you are fortifying them, they just don't cut it, in our experience.

We really had our mix dialed in a couple years ago, but it was written on a scrap of paper and ... well... you can imagine where the story goes. So we are honing it back in and this is our current incarnation. I've explained some of our choices of materials afterwards. The recipe fills about 4 standard garbage cans so is obviously more related to farm production, but can be scaled down with the same proportions. Its not as good as our old one yet but getting close.

2.5 bricks coco coir (50 gall.) (Soaking for a several hours makes it way easier to finely break up)

4 bags worm castings (30 gall.) - we use Down to Earth's "Wonder Worm"

1 bag (25 gall.) perlite

10 gall. vermiculite

¾ # lime

2 # powdered cal/phos

5# 10-6-1 Bat guano (we also get this from Down to Earth but this specific N-P-K is not always available. You'll need to do some math to reformulate for varying N-P-K versions of the guano.)

4# Alfalfa meal

.5# kelp

Add water to create a moist but not soggy consistency and mix very thoroughly. Store in a dry place. Add moisture as needed to keep from getting too dry.

We are very sensitive about the raw materials we use on our farm. For the most part we don't eat animal products in our family, so for a couple years we experimented with plant based fertility mixes. The problem is, plant based nitrogen, while great (we use lots of OG alfalfa meal in the field), is generally not that available on the time scale that a growing start needs it. They tend to be mid-slow releasing sources. While we wouldn't rule it out, we really struggled to produce vigorous robust starts in exclusively plant based mixes. Bone meal, blood meal, and feather meal are typical sources of nitrogen for potting mixes but, regardless of how you feel about animal based agriculture, these products are the dregs of industrial, horribly abusive, animal systems. It doesn't seem to make sense to us to be working to create something so fundamentally opposed to those industrial ag systems while being dependent on their waste products.
What we settled on for quick release nitrogen is bat guano. Its mined out of caves, is probably somewhat invasive, but is in some cases a domestic product, and seemed to us the least bad of several unsavory options. We don't love it but have learned to live with it.

We use Coir in place of peat as peat mining is pretty unsustainable and we have been pretty happy with it as an alternative. Coir comes from the pith between the inner and outer shells of coconuts. The one we use comes from Sri Lanka and while that's a long way away, its pretty compact and Id guess the overall footprint is smaller than that of peat in the long run.

So, A note about aging potting mix. There seems to be a sweet spot with using your home mixed potting mix and here's how we think about it. We feel as though there is a window soon after mixing when the materials are just getting to know each other, a little soil mixer, but nobody has hooked up yet and the nitrogen is still available to the growing seedling. If you don't plant in it in the first week or two though, the nitrogen gets all kissy kissy with the carbon of the base material (in our case coir), breaking it down, and is less available to the growing needs of the plant. After about a month or month and a half of aging everybody realizes there is enough love to go 'round and the seedlings can get in on the action and have access to the nutrients again. In a perfect world we'd plan ahead and mix well in advance of the greenhouse season. Our reality more often looks like "Oh S$%@! I thought that trashcan was full! Quick, mix some up today, we have hundreds of tomatoes to pot up to 4"s. So, you do the best you can.

Thanks for reading and I hope you find this useful.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

...of champions

A couple of slices of two day old pizza and a quart of coffee for breakfast behind the wheel en route to the farm...must be almost summer again...

A sunny couple of weeks have proven to be the best spring in years for the early season sowing and transplanting. I can't remember the last time I wished for a good rain in April. Transplants are in...rain is falling...time to grow.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

scooping calendula seeds out of a sweet little bowl made by this lovely WA artist and listening to bon iver, for emma, forever ago.. listen here
deeply soothing on this quiet yet extremely busy day.

looking forward to spring, summer, sunshine, Feb. when we visit the OR coast on our way to bring all our seed racks to their various homes. visiting old haunts and letting the hot springs melt over every tired out bone and the wild waves wash away all previous thought, sound, and month long sickness'.

can't wait.

Seed Racks are up at:
Both Bellingham Coops

Will soon be up at:
Crossroads Grocery- Maple Falls
Terra in the Public Market
Skagit Coop- Mt Vernon
Snow Isle Coop_ Everett
Madison Market_ Seattle
Both Olympia Coop
Alberta Coop- Portland
Sundance Natural Foods- Eugene
Red Barn- Eugene

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seeds and Snow

It is that time of year again where we dive into the Seeds. Such a rewarding and quiet time as well as infinitely stressful as we wait for seeds to germinate and germinate well! For me there are 2 main things that give me such a boost when I am feeling the immediate stress of this work: Kind and lovely people who encourage us and appreciate what we do, and the amazing seeds themselves. Looking at "Tigers Eye" dry bean today as my child and I shelled them by hand, I was stunned by their beauty and the intricate life inside each one. I am brought back to warm Summer days and the green of lush plants thriving in the sun. Somehow I seem to bypass all the work that went into those greenly waving plants when I am sitting inside watching the snow fall!

Which brings me to the snow...the snow that is falling outside in great heaps(for this town anyway)and shows no sign of stopping for days! This is so wonderful and different and cold. Today I skied around and around our neighborhood and then later, Brian and I went out for a late night ski around Lake Padden. Quiet, white, and snowing still. I realized that I am a great skier when I cannot see what lies ahead! Fearless I surge ahead, following the path and carefully trying not to ski into our nearly blind and deaf 15 yr old dogfriend.

It is almost time to start packing seeds and sending them out into the world. I am thankful for this work that connects me to a multitude of stories and in turn gives me the opportunity to pass them on. I love stories and love the vitality and spirit that they hold and embolden in others. These seeds really are gifts. Gifts to the body and spirit and to the multitudes who crave story, meaning, and good food in their lives.

And let's not forget the politics! Save your own seed or buy OP and/or Heirloom varieties. Continuing interest in these varieties will ensure that they continue on and that seed savers around the country will be able to continue saving seeds. With Huge, corporate seed companies buying up more and more seed companies it is vital that we research and support the work of so many amazing and dedicated growers on small family farms.

Happy Holidays to you all!

Friday, October 3, 2008

gone but not forgotten

bringing in the arugula seed

Oct already and we have not posted since July! And we thought we'd be able to keep up with this blog during farm season...Even now I should not be posting as we have market early tomorrow but I did want to check in for anyone out there still checking this very seldom updated blog.

Such a difficult season filled with rain that ruined so much of our seed crops that we had been watching grow since March. It's difficult to even explain what it is like watching all that work and intention melt into the ground and then be eaten one rainy day by birds while I watched! I wandered into the greenhouse, crouched low to the earth and just sobbed. The thunder of the rain on the roof so loud the only evidence of my sobbing were my copious tears. But that was last month and we got over it quickly. Our busy schedule holds no time for depression and there was and is so much that worked out wonderfully and nothing we could do about the rest so... now we RUN! We have been harvesting and cleaning seeds like mad for a month or so and are excited about all the new possibilities. The areas we harvested peas from are awash in the new green of pea leaves unfurling, all the peas we did not get to pick. The lettuce seed areas that melted into the ground are bursting with green lettuce leaves...and so we have early cover crops!
With only 2 more markets left and our trip to Italy and Terre Madre on the horizon, we now await a window to plant our garlic and french shallots. We hope to have a crew of nimble fingers, strong backs, and loud, singing voices. If you'd like to sign up drop a line and we'll add you to the list! Terre Madre (made possible to us by Jeff Lydon and the Betsy Lydon Award), is an event filled with inspiring people and their stories. Filled with farmers from around the world who gather together for 5 days to celebrate and discuss their stories, struggles, and victories....the garlic will get planted and then, we're off!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Full Moon

buried under work are we...  a million things to do like weed, weed, weed, weed, breathe, string tomatoes, water everything frantically, set the last drip tape, weed, harvest, Harvest, HARVEST, WEED, pack seeds for that lovely Kim at Olympia Coop who keeps on movin them!, till down, transplant, sow seeds for next years seed crops, WATER!, eat, sleep, pull all that garlic and set it out in the greenhouse that still needs...plastic!, get it up, string and prune those speedy tomatoes, pinch back the basil, breathe, listen to the thrushes, play w/rowan, hike, swim, listen to music, dance, laugh, marvel at the sunflowers, go to market, tend to the CSA, print seed catalogues and mail them to all you  very very patient people, drive to and fro, bike, watch the full moon rise while stretching for a moment in just the right direction, look at it a long long time and, remember that the weariness of our bones, the  strength of our soil imprinted hands, and the sometimes heaviness of our hearts are also our joy and the fullness of our lives, sit down, breathe, whisper a prayer,  look up, lay down, body to earth, whisper thankyou.

at the farm: snow peas, snap peas, garlic scapes and heads, kales, chard, squash, zuchinni, some very tiny but golden yellow tomatoes, some very tiny but black eggplants, fingerling potatoes!, red sweet onions, scallions, broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, rainbow carrots, radishes, beets, lettuce and mix, bok choi, cucumbers, lots of flowers blooming small but w/ continual whispered encouragement, stretching skyward.