From Microbiology to Mentors

[vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]The weather has warmed, and what a welcome change. Doesn’t this spring feeling just put an extra kick in your step and another feather in your cap!? Hope you’ve been able to enjoy the ‘long’ days and the nice temperatures.
Spring started on the farm last week, too. We fired up the greenhouse, and the hot water system is warming up the floor and incubation chamber. We use a hot-water boiler system to provide in-floor heating for our greenhouse from March through May. It creates a much more efficient and predictable heating environment for our plants during the often-tumultuous spring weather patterns. A hot water heater that we salvaged from Craigslist provides heat for the antifreeze-and-water mixture that heats the greenhouse via 600 feet of PEX tubing in the floor. This keeps the structure at 60 to 70 degrees – beautiful! Amelia started seeding herbs and celery last Friday, the 6th. Today we start onions! Seeds are in germination chamber and will be sprouting over the next week.

Rail Travel to La Crosse, WI for MOSES
I wrote part of this newsletter from the seat of the upper level of the Boomer Car on Amtrak bound for La Crosse, WI. The train takes a winding, but direct path right through the Mississippi River bluffs to La Crosse, and then onto Chicago. Last time I was on the train I was 10 years old visiting family in Chicago. My grandfather was a car distributor for Burlington Northern in St. Paul from the 1960’s through the early 1990’s, so I have always had this romantic vision of trains. They reopened Union Depot in St. Paul this past year, and it is a beautiful place to see – it’s funny to think that this timeless piece of architecture has been closed for all these years! The Amtrak is a great way to travel, and not cramped by any means.
I went to La Crosse to attend the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) conference. This annual event is a great opportunity to learn and become inspired about the next steps and directions for our farm. February is the time of year when we set goals, and each year we keep adding onto what we’d like to see change. At least one of us attends the MOSES conference each year for the past six years – it’s a great place to connect and re-connect with our farming peers and mentors and get ready for spring!

Elaine Ingham
Thursday at the MOSES conference, I spent a eight-hour day in a soil biology workshop with research soil scientist Elaine Ingham, who has spent her much of her life studying soil microbiology and the living soil. Growing on new soil on our farm this summer, I knew this discussion would be more valuable than ever, and help transition our farm’s soil to healthy soil for organic growing. Our goal is to get the soil biology balanced so we can have fertile, healthy, and independent soil. Overall, soil biology everywhere has been thrown out of whack because of conventional farming practices. I knew that our farm’s soil has been managed conventionally– with synthetic inputs, sprays and herbicides, which kill all of the soil’s natural bacteria and fungi- good and bad. Elaine Ingham was a great teacher and a definite rabble rouser in the soil biology word. She is a soil biologist who views soil as a living organism and with our farming practices can have our soil living and independent within this year!
So, what’s the difference between soil and dirt? Soil has living organisms and life! Dirt has no life in it. Most of what you see when you’re driving through the countryside is dirt. We’re working to create more soil! Elaine familiarized me with these living organisms and even with what they look like under a microscope! I can identify certain fungi and bacteria under the microscope, along with nematodes and microscopic organisms! Ingham says that really the only thing that we want to add to soil is healthy compost with the correct ratios of bacteria and fungi. She went through describing tilling practices over many years, along with herbicides killing off bacteria, good and bad. We can return our soils to health that is need for our organic practices! From the large farmer to the small home gardener, we are told by many that we need to add nutrients to our soils. We talked about the proper way to make compost, what good and bad compost looks like, productive rations of bacteria and fungi in our soil, and much more. There is a complex food web of fungi, bacteria, nematodes, protozoa that are part of a system which can ultimately create soils that promote healthy plant root and plant systems without any other amendments. Ingham’s work is amazing and for any of you who are interested, I recommend you check out the link below for a starting place. Listen to it while you make dinner with your veggies some night. You may understand some thoughts and life, your farmers, are trying to build in our soils! This is good for everyone to better understand soil!

Aside from soil science, I also investigated and studied case studies from other farmers for solar energy. Acquiring and running on solar energy is one of our “someday” goals. It would be a big-buck project, initially, for us, but we know that we want our “someday” to be soon. I also spent time at a session to find out more information about the Food Safety Modernization Act bill which will be finalized this fall, and will affect us as farmers. We’ll spend more time discussing that bill in future newsletters. Finally, I also spent time at a workshop examining pack shed design. This is important because Nick and I are planning construction of a new washing and packing area at our farm, and are looking for all the input we can get. We plan on sharing our design and construction logic with other farmers in the future.

Congratulations to our farming mentors
Our mentors & friends – MOSES organic farmers of the year, Greg and Mary Reynolds!
The MOSES organic farmers of the year are our friends Greg and Mary Reynolds from Delano. They are a very humble and deserving couple who are very progressive thinkers in our local food and farming community. Greg is currently the moving force in the effort to adapt local seeds and educating others to do so. This is a huge recognition in our Midwest region. Greg teaches by doing and I am lucky to have been able to work alongside him at his farm for multiple years. Greg believed in me as an aspiring farmer, at a time in my beginning farming where many other farming elders were more critical than wanting to teach. As an independent thinking woman newly transplanted to a traditional farming community, this is something that I really needed. During my interview for the job, I gave Greg a two-page list of everything that I wanted to learn on his farm, and he said “We can do that.” Greg is an amazing teacher, farmer, and friend. Thanks, Greg and Mary, for all of your work! See more here:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”1145″ img_link_target=”pretty_photo” img_size=”300×300″][vc_single_image image=”1144″ img_link_target=”pretty_photo” img_size=”300×300″][vc_single_image image=”1133″ img_link_target=”pretty_photo” img_size=”300×300″][vc_single_image image=”1139″ img_link_target=”pretty_photo” img_size=”300×300″][vc_single_image image=”1137″ img_link_target=”pretty_photo” img_size=”300×300″][vc_single_image image=”1148″ img_link_target=”pretty_photo” img_size=”300×300″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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