Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 CSA Newsletters and Photos

The 2016 season was our fifth season on the farm. This is a written and photographic record of the year. Thank you to all our members and supporters that made the season great!
The "Posts" contain pictures of each box & a link to the newsletter.

Preseason {1}  April Newsletter
Preseason {2}  May Newsletter
Member Supplements:
Storage Guide • Herb Guide • Honey Add-On Order Form
Week 7 Post • Newsletter
Week 13 Post • Newsletter
Week 16 Post • Newsletter
Week 18 Post • Newsletter

Week #4 CSA Box
French Breakfast heirloom radishes

Fresh Snow Peas
Week #17 ~ Sept. 28, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sir Renfred Moves on to New Pastures

Sir Renfred Leaves the Farm

It was a bitter sweet day yesterday as Sir Renfred moved to his new home. You can see below that he is eager to get to know his new lady friends (as evidenced by the mouth foam). We are grateful that he has moved to a fantastic new home, with large pastures to roam. We know Farmer Drew, Full Boar Farm, will take great care of him.

Sir Renfred gets a first peak at his new ladies.
That doesn't keep us from getting a little emotional about the change! Sir Renfred means "mighty, but peaceful" and indeed he always lived up to his name. He was our first boar and has been an important part of our pastured pig operation. Below, Farmer John says goodbye. The night before he left we hung out and gave the good ole boy a beer, for old times sake. Good, good pig.

John says farewell.

So what's the story? Why the change? 

We have decided to take a break from farrowing (breeding pigs). We had been discussing this off an on for a little bit. When we, kind of, begrudgingly, made our final decision that was about the time Farmer Drew contact us looking to see if we had a boar for sale. Very serendipitous.

Taking a break from farrowing is like a two year process. It's a little laughable. Now, we have fewer pigs and fewer groups of pigs, which eases the work. The sows, Elsa and Suzy, will farrow in January. Post-weaning in March we will look for good homes for them. All of the weaner piglets (which already have good homes set), except about 3, will move off to other farms. With a group of 3 for us to raise over the summer it will be the smallest number of pigs we have had on our farm. When that trio is harvested in late Fall we shall enjoy a winter without pigs - our "break."

Summer 2017 we have one (or more) large projects going on, which we would like to put our focus towards. Our Deep Winter Greenhouse will be built and next winter will be our first winter growing. It will be nice to have more time and energy to dedicate to this, as pigs do take considerable time to care for (which we love, don't get me wrong). This also gives us great opportunity to rejuvenate the pastures, which really took a beating in the muddy, muddy, mucky never-ending rain this year.

So, while sad, it's all good. Hard decisions need to happen on the farm. It's definitely more difficult with animals that have been around a while. Scroll on, for a little Sir Renny slideshow.

Sir Renfred Slide Show!

 Here he is the day he moved in. He moved all the way from Ohio. Such a little guy!

Renny has brought us much joy.

His first wallow.

Always gentle and sweet.

That boy snoozed hard. Gotta love that nose...and those ears!

He surely produced some beautiful bacon bits and delicious pork chops.

He is a wonderful Dad. Loved the kids to pieces.

He even let them try and nurse him.

What a lover.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Making a Blessing out of Fighting

Eternal mud season. That's what it feels like. Sometimes it seems like we are always fighting. Fighting the mud, the wind, the weather. Fighting time. Daylight. Sneaky chickens. Fighting for organic. Fighting the consumer mindset. Fighting for environmental and good food education. Time. Fighting bugs, disease, loss. Fighting to meet our sales goals. Fighting off exhaustion.

Right now the mud is a downer and it exacerbates this feeling, so pig chores became a meditation on fighting today. As I wrangled the kids hay rack out of one mud pit and into theirs I could feel the frustration (and triumph). (Fighting that fleeting thought that I just want to turn everyone into bacon!) The kiddos were delighted, grateful, exuberant over their alfalfa hay - my heart is full.

Hogs enjoying some good hay, despite the mud.
It's difficult to remind myself that it is a blessing to be able to fight these things, fight for these things. (I'll have to remember this in summer, when I'm trying to sleep with rain and 40 mph winds.) To have choice in these elements I'm fighting, and fighting for. Farming will never be easy, there will always be something to fight against, but we remain vibrant, grow strong.

We have the privilege not to have to be fighting for our livelihood. When there are others out there fighting for their homes, their lands, their water (our lands, our water), who have much less choice.

I think about the mud - the water in our ground. I am grateful that my family, my farm, my farm animals have access to good, clean water. The mud makes me crazy, but it's Minnesota...hopefully it will freeze soon. "This too shall pass." Meditating on gratitude that this is a temporary fight.

Mucking it up with my muddy buddies.
We stand with Standing Rock. We have to keep fighting for our environment, for our children for the next seven generations. We cannot give on this, but keep pressing forwards - each of us where we can.

The Seventh Generation Principle
"This principle states that we should make decisions about how we live today based on how our decisions will impact the future seven generations. We must be good caretakers of the earth, not simply for ourselves, but for those who will inherit the earth, and the results of our decisions. This value is found in the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Great Law of Peace (Gayanashagowa) and is common among a number of indigenous peoples in the Americas." - Woodbine Ecology Center

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Late November

I think I'll call it the "quiet season" as of late. You haven't heard much from us here, or on social media. In the Fall, and into winter, there is a kind of slowing, much cherished after summer. I think we are especially taking time to enjoy it, as we know this time next year it will slow, but the pace will be different, as we continue to grow food in our deep winter greenhouse.

Yarrow tincture brewing. 
The late Fall let me make some more medicines for the cupboard. I found late blooming yarrow to tincture, for medicine and bug spray. I dug dandelions for tea - with leisure. :)

We are putting the final details on the orchard nursery deer protection and working on little projects in our buildings and pig quarters. We are cleaning the garage, making apple butter, preserving more last bits of the harvest. I am deep cleaning the house.

Ragnar helping in the field.
We are reading more, cooking more and trying new recipes out. We are processing, reflecting, shedding, connecting. Looking back at the year, getting ready to finalize year-end reports and ramp up plans for next season.

And, we are waiting for a nice freeze to end the mud-season and a nice blanket of snow for cross country skiing.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

That's a Wrap! Orchard Style

This week we finished cleaning up the orchard, as well as the veggie field. We cleaned up a few more apples for the pigs winter stash, and picked a few more Haralson hanging on for our winter eating.

The pigs winter apple stash. We like them eating produce as long as possible!
 The orchard looks beautiful. We picked up the ladders and bins, and took down our insect traps.
Our off-site orchard. 
Johnny picking a few more Haralsons for us to snack on.
John is a mountain climber...being an orchardist is a great compliment. Here he is picking apples....mind you I am laying flat on the ground to take this...and he is horizontal in the tree. :)
Johnny having fun picking horizontally.

That's a wrap on our fifth season managing the orchard.

 Trees planted in 2016 at the home orchard.

Nursery trees ready to be planted out in 2017.
Nursery stock for our growing orchard.
 A wonderful day working in the orchard together. Thank you for supporting organic agriculture! Apples are the 2nd most contaminated fruit/vegetable, we take pride in bringing these healthy fruits to our community!

The kids will be happy to eat apples (and some pumpkins) until they run out!

The "kids."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Don't Panic, We're Organic!

Grow Organic

Another year, a new organic certificate and inspection passed with flying colors and no changes needed. It feels good to be an organic producer.

At Alternative Roots Farm we believe that the right way to grow produce for our community is to grow organic. We never questioned this. There are arguments we hear, floating around the farming community, against this step, but they just aren't convincing to us to skip something so vital. The organic label is assurance to our customers that there are no synthetic chemicals on the food they are eating, we are caring for our land with organic management (crop rotation, organic matter, wildlife habitat) and no GMO crops are grown.

It is the only label that has solid, regulatory weight behind it that consumers can trust there are no chemicals and GMOs used. Many other claims, such as "natural" and "beyond organic," do not have any regulation for them. In a society where folks are hopping on the sustainability bandwagon, there is so much greenwashing of products it can be confusing when making purchasing decisions - organic eliminates this confusion.

ARF has been certified organic since August 2014.
Now, there are still ways organic could improve, but I feel it is a solid, trustworthy label for produce and produce products, while improvements for animal products are needed (in my opinion). When it comes to meat and eggs I would continue to use a skeptical eye and try to learn about your farmers and farms the products come from - buy local. "Access to pasture" is not the same as actually being out on pasture. With any good thing, such as a growing organic industry, there are going to be businesses that take advantage where there are profits to be made.

A Peek at the Certification Process

That brings me to the certification process behind organics. Each year, every organic operation - whether a grower, or processing facility - an organic business must work with their certification agency to apply annually for renewed certification. Then a third party, independent inspection agent makes a farm visit to verify paperwork, after which they report back to the certification agency, who reviews the report and makes a final determination of organic status. 

Certified organic by the Midwest Organic Services Association.
Paperwork and records are reviewed. Seed tags and bags and catalogs are saved for 5 years of accountability. Harvest data is checked to jive with what we are growing, to make sure folks aren't buying in and calling stuff organic that isn't. Seed to sale the inspector wants to be able to trace a product, for validity. What that looks like is our inspector, pulling out a sales receipt and having me trace that back to when and where it was harvested. There are various other paper trail details like this.

Arguments Against Organic

So, why do fellow farmer folks argue against organic? 

"The paperwork." Well, yes, there is paperwork, but in essence this is paperwork you want to do to be a good farmer, or business person, anyways. It's a little more work the first year of certification, then easy review and updating following that. 

"The Man." Yes, it is the government, and government regulations, which sometimes seem ass-backwards, but it's the way it is - deal with it. I file some paperwork, legally, federally filed paperwork that acts as a great insurance to our business and then I get to farm how I want. The government is not running my operation. I rotate crops on my schedule, plant the seeds that I want. Big Brother is never a presence on our farm.

There are other arguments, but these tend to be the main ones. I get frustrated by farms marketing as "Beyond Organic" which has no basis and confuses the organic name, confuses consumers we work so hard to educate and, frankly, is illegal. There are those that say we should not have to apply to not use chemicals, it's the conventional farmers that should apply to use chemicals (so much truth to that), but again...this is the way it is.

The hoops are worth jumping through for you, for our community, for education on real food. This isn't just about our farm, it's about our countries broken food system as well. It's as much a political statement as it is a small business decision.
Buy organic, support organic. For sustainable farms and food and future.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sponsor-A-Tree Shout Outs!

Sponsor-A-Tree Shout Out

A Huge Thank You! to our 2016 Sponsor-A-Tree supporters, who made a capital investment in our growing orchard. Later this month we will be purchasing 1 acre of land, adjacent to our home farm, where we will be expanding our organic orchard. Sponsor-A-Tree folks are a support with this investment and will be honored with a sign by their heirloom apple tree when these trees are planted out in Spring 2017.

Joan & Robby Doss
Anne & Andy Biebl
Yvonne & Lee Weber (pear)
Steve & Jessica Lindee
Kristin & Dale Anderson
Anonymous Awesome Apple Crew
Anita Prestidge & Aldean Hendrickson
Kellie & Chris Newman

2015 young apple tree planting at our home orchard.
We are deeply grateful for your investment and enthusiasm in our apple orcharding adventures!!

If you are interested in making a Sponsor-A-Tree donation, please contact us at

Mature apple tree at our off-site orchard.