Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I Present to You, Our HayGrove Hoophouse!!!

Well, here she is in all her glory!  We only have a few more tension wires to put in - we'll be doing that this Friday, but for all intents and purposes, we have a 1/2 acre hoophouse at our farm!  This has been a long road for us, as you blog readers know, and we couldn't be happier!  The next major challenge will be putting the plastic on, but we have several months to figure that out!  Meanwhile, we wait for the oat cover crop to die off, the snow can come and saturate our soils, and we will plan.  We are receiving so many seeding catalogs everyday, our lists of crops for next year are already long, and we have entered that annual process of circling everything in the catalogs - then the crossing off of so many that don't make the cut for so many reasons.  Then, finally, in January the final cuts are made, we await the crops and we prep our seeding plans.  I love the rhythms of our year, so predictable but full of plenty of variables.  Well, we have the HayGrove, and here we present to you, the process so far!  Enjoy!  Particularly enjoy the wonderful timelapse videos Spencer put together!  They are so fun and say so much in just a few seconds.  We welcome all your comments!
Here's their company truck.  The crew came in from PA, that's where the East Coast office is.  They come on-site and bend the hoops to fit the size of hoophouse you have bought.  In our case, each of our 3 bays is 25' wide, so the hoops need to be bent to make sure they span that distance.

As one might be able to imagine, that takes some precision, and after the guys got the bender off of the truck, level, and at the position they thought it needed to be, they bent a hoop and it was too long.  They made some adjustments and still the hoops were being bent too long.  This process took 1-1/2 hours.  Did I mention it was raining and sleeting?  Did I mention that I had a crew of my own that had come to help out of the kindness of their own hearts and were standing around unable to do anything while the adjustments were being made?  Well, that's how it happened.

However, this is one impressive piece of machinery, as you can see here.

Since this piece of the day took so long, we decided to just go ahead and bend all the hoops, put up a few on the end, and stabilize it with the windy end kit (basically a bunch of cross-beams holding it in place) so that the hoops don't bob around in the breeze unfettered.  We dismissed our intrepid crew and worked with the guys to get the first windy end kit up the next morning before leaving for Boston for Thanksgiving.  They showed us how to secure the ends with tension wire and a sweet little tool called the Grippler.  It's a fun word to say a lot, and I've been finding many excuses to use it!

So, the crew left, we finished the rest of the windy end kit ourselves (much faster!), and headed to Boston for a Thanksgiving that couldn't be beat.  

Back in VT and out to the field on Tuesday to put up the other windy end kit, which was challenging with 2 people.  That, and the van kept getting stuck in the mud.  We have realized that we have bald tires on our van!  We also realized how nice it is to have help, and called on some friends to help us today, Wednesday.  

We were able to get up every hoop, and the wire tension setup for each row.  We're going down tomorrow or Friday (weather permitting) to do the top wire, star wire and anchor wires.  Should be fun!  The end is in sight!  One more major day of work on this and then we can relax with these crazy building projects until Spring!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I love garlic!

On Halloween day this year, we did one of my all-time favorite tasks; planting garlic.  This is such a fun job that, each year, reminds me why I farm.  It's a 9 month process that begins in October with the planting, and ends in July with the harvesting.  Some would say that the garlic ritual begins in July, really, when we harvest out all the garlic, and set it up in the greenhouse to cure.  After that is complete - sometime in August or September, we set aside the heads that we want to use for seed garlic.  We have been growing an unknown variety of hard-neck garlic for the past 5 years, and we've been selecting the seed for large cloves - this has resulted in heads with mostly 4 mega cloves each!  They are fantastically mild, easy to peel, and store relatively well - we make it through about April or May before the quality of the cloves starts to deteriorate.  This year we set aside an estimated 3000 cloves for planting.  We are re-orienting our fields to run East-West next year instead of North-South; this will allow our beds to be shorter and easier to manage.  A couple of the beds got some straw for mulching, but for the first year ever, we've got no straw to mulch with and will not be mulching the other rows.  We've talked with many farmers that have not mulched garlic and had fine crops.  So, we'll see!  

First, we separate all the cloves in the heads.  We sure had a lot!

Here's the size of these amazing cloves!

Spencer used our BCS walk-behind 30" tiller to prep the beds.  The soil was so soft and fluffy that we didn't need to poke holes to plant the garlic into, we were able to just shove them in!

We have 5 beds, and about 3000 cloves that will turn into big beautiful heads of garlic next year!

Spence throwing straw onto the beds.

One of my all-time favorite garlic recipes here for your dining pleasure (I know basil is not in season, but you can sock this great recipe away until it is!):
Holy Basil Chicken
Serves 4
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 fresh Thai chiles, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups loosely packed fresh holy basil leaves, plus more for garnish
  • Sticky or steamed jasmine rice, for serving
  1. Mash together garlic and chiles using a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a large knife. Heat oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is just golden, about 20 seconds.
  2. Add chicken; cook, stirring often, until chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes. Stir in fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Add basil; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Season with more pepper, if desired. Serve over rice. Garnish with basil.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More HayGrove Pictures

Thank goodness Travis from the Intervale came down to check on our progress last Thursday - he took some great pictures of us doing the final job of the day - drilling in the anchor posts around the perimeter of the structure. This was fortuitous, since our camera took a dive off of the tractor and erased all the pictures we had taken on that day! He was kind enough to share, and these pictures that Travis took really capture the scope of the structure better than the others, I think. We spoke with the HayGrove guys today, and they're solidifying a date to bend the hoops for hoop placement day. If you'd like to help us out on that day, keep an eye out for a post on the date, which we'll post as soon as we know it. Enjoy these couple of pictures:

Here's the view from the east end of the field.

Here's another east end view.

A view from the west end of the field. You can see the rows of posts, and us working on placing the last anchor posts.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hip Hip Hooray HayGrove!

Pictured at left are (l-r) Adam, Linus, Mara & Spencer, and Sully (Linus' dog). We are smiling because we just finished erecting the first stage of our HayGrove hoophouse - you can see the posts behind us in the picture. We spent yesterday and today drilling the posts for the 3 bays (4 rows of posts). It took us 3 hours each day to do the drilling of the posts, we placed 86 posts each day. Each row took us about 1.5 hours, and then at the end of today, Spencer and I drilled in the anchor posts, which took us about 40 minutes each side, so another hour and 20 minutes for that job. All told, I'd say this phase of the project took us 10 hours to accomplish with 4 people (though three could do it you had to). I only have pictures from yesterday, as the camera fell off of the tractor today and lost all of today's photos! Sorry, Josh - thanks for taking all of our pictures today, though! We appreciate your help driving the tractor today, too! This will necessitate some more picture taking soon so that you can see the full extent of the project. So, on to some pictures!

So. As you'll recall, this whole project was held up for a year while FEMA, VT Dept. of Agriculture, the City of Burlington, the Department of Historic Preservation (DHP) and others worked to try and figure out if a 1/2 acre hoophouse was in violation of anything. FEMA decided that our hoophouse, which was custom built for one field had to be re-oriented to coincide with the direction of the Winooski river, so in the event of a major flood the water would flow in one end and out the other, causing minimal damage to others downstream. Illogical or not, we have to comply, so one other piece to the puzzle was that DHP wanted to do an archaeological dig since the arbitrary OK digging depth in their eyes was 18", and our posts were going to be sunk 30". Also, the Intervale is considered a site of "archaeological significance", so documenting interesting artifacts is in their interest. So, once the site was dug and catalogued, we'd get the OK. That happened, as you can see here, last week. This is the UVM archaeology crew that came to survey the site - 20 holes dug to 90 cm (about a meter), offset to where our posts would actually be going.
They dig a pit, toss soil into a screen, shake the screen, look for artifacts, then do it until they've reached the depth they are shooting for. Here John Crock, the lead of the dig shows us where there are old plow lines, also lines that indicate past flood events. It was quite fascinating!

Here you can see the flags running all the way down the 300' length of the hoophouse. What did they find? Nothing. Not a single thing. Not even an old horseshoe or nail! Sooooooo.

We start building!!! Here Spencer is pounding in our first stake to set the perimeter of our house.

Here we attempt to measure the distance. It was very windy and cold on this day. NOT FUN! Also hard to really measure accurately with all the wind flapping the measuring tape around.

Ah! Perfectly square and ready to go!

This field belonged to Full Moon Farm this season, and before they left, they seeded a nice thick cover crop of oats. Thanks, Dave! I mowed swatches of it down to make the laying of Lumite down much easier.

Here's our beloved Lumite the Landscape Fabric. This is laid before drilling the posts because once the hoophouse is all constructed, we never want to have to weed around each post!

Once all the Lumite is in place, we start marking where each post will go. We created a plumb bob from a bunch of landscape tacks, and marked each post spot with a bent landscape tack.

Here I am measuring the required 7'3" between each post.

Once they are all laid out, we cut a slit at each tack to make way for drilling in the post.

OK! All marked out and ready for action! We finished this project just as the sun was going down at 4:30 pm!!! Ah the north.....

Next day, I loaded up the tractor and wagon with the posts while Spencer went to pick up the 2 man auger that we need to use to drill it in. It turned out that we needed to modify the bit that was sent to us to make the drilling possible, and so we had to take it to a metal shop and ask them to essentially rebuild it so that we could do the job. And, becuase they had the right tools, they accomplished this in all of 20 minutes, and then we were in business. Of course, the running around to see who could do this for us gobbled up 2 hours! So, instead of starting at 10 am, we finally really got going at 1pm.

This was our setup: tractor to pull us, wagon to hold all the posts, picnic table on the back of the wagon to hold us up high enough to get the auger on top of the poles! Felt unsafe at first, but it worked REALLY well.

Here's Adam - the post leveler and stabilizer.

Here's the beast! It weighs about 40 or 50 pounds! We had to get a PTO extension (the red piece), and that shiny piece on the bottom is the "bit" we got made and used to connect the auger to the post.
Linus drove the tractor forward most of the day. This was a HUGE help - so we didn't have to jump down, move the tractor, then jump up, drill, jump down, etc. Glad we didn't skimp on help!
I would watch for our post markers to appear under me as Linus drove forward, then I'd yell, "Stop!". Sometimes I'd yell, "Back!", sometimes I'd yell, "Forward a little!" Our vocabulary was reduced to these words and when Spencer and I would drill, we'd use words like, "Ready!", "OK!", "Good!" Felt very cavemanlike, but it was so important to be clear - we're dealing with a big, heavy, unpredictable machine, here, people! Be clear.

Here is what a complete row looks like! Notice the undulations with the landscape. This is what HayGroves do - conform to the natural undulations of fields. I think it will look like a caterpillar when its got its plastic on!

Here's a video that Spencer tried to take of what the process was like.

More pictures to come soon!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Home from Terra Madre

Finally, we have arrived home - after about 60 hours of no sleep, missing our last flight and renting a car from JFK to Burlington! However, all is fine - our luggage made it with no breaks of any important bottles, which is a huge relief! Our last day in Turin feels like such a blur - I'm sure it's hazy due to the lack of sleep factor, but I'll do my best to recount our amazing last day.
We spent the morning taking in the areas of the Salone del Gusto that we hadn't yet, as well as making those necessary last purchases at the Presidium section. We spent our dollars mostly supporting the Presidium foods, and really feel good about that. However, there are so many amazing foods all over that are purchase worthy, and we made sure to partake in things like pistachios from Sicily - made into a nut butter and also made deliciously into a buttery gelato. It was this that we tanked up on while attending a workshop called: Food Security, the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy. This was a panel discussion that had a meteorologist, Vandana Shiva, the Piedmont Minister of Agriculture, the Turin Minister of Commerce, and President of the Economics Commission on the Government of Cuba. Such a diverse crew of folks all saying the same thing - we need to become self sustainable in the agricultural department to survive the challenges of climate change as well as the economic and food crises that are upon us. It was a fascinating panel that I tried to record with my camera's audio feature - I'll try to find a way to post that somewhere here. After that amazing talk, we had a couple of hours before we had to be back at the Olympic stadium for the closing ceremonies. We spent the time visiting with some of our friends that we've made at past Terra Madre installments, farming conferences as well as other Vermonters that we happened to bump into. Then it was off to the crazy closing ceremony that was incredibly awe-inspiring. The air was positively electric with the collective experiences we 8000 delegates had shared - there were closing speeches that were praised and booed (the video of the Minister of Foreign Affairs was 17 minutes too long, and all the Italians booed him and eventually stood and turned their backs to his image - all in all, his message was positive, but the natives were restless and couldn't sit still for that long!). The Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that in 2010 when Italy hosts the G8 summit, Slow Food will be invited to make a case - a pretty big deal! Carlo Petrini had to come out and scold us gently and redirect the energy towards celebration of all we had experienced. We were then treated to Fiesta Madre - a beautiful celebration of the farmer-musicians that participated. It was ring-led by the Torino based music group called Mau Mau - fantastic Brazilian style with a world beat, a perfect complement to the other groups they had playing with them - an Ethiopian group, a Senegalese group, some various Italian traditional groups; I've never seen anything quite like it; the entire room was vibrating with the dancing throngs in pure joy and happiness. What a rush! It was essentially a manifestation of party scenes from Kim Stanley Robinson books - especially the Mars series, which catalogues humanity's challenge to colonize Mars (so convincing, you'd swear it was already accomplished). In his books there are always several inspiring gatherings of people that erupt into intense dance parties, playing to our primal urge to commune through music....THAT was what Fiesta Madre was like. (Incidentally, Time magazine just named Kim Stanley Robinson as a "hero of the environment" - check out his Capital Code series about abrupt climate change (Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting). At any rate - it was a dizzying end to the conference, especially as we were shuttled to our buses at 11 pm to be whisked to our hotels, where we would be picked up to go to the airport at 3am (for an 11 am flight!), and our many hours of not sleeping were underway. It's no use anyway, we were so wired from the experience that it would have been hard to sleep! So, we stayed up and debriefed and wrote and talked while traveling home with high hopes to continue the momentum that we gained during this amazing experience. I would LOVE to have the Intervale have a much larger delegation in 2010, as urban farming will become more and more important as the cities maintain the bulk of our world's population. Look forward to us organizing some fun slide shows, talks and dinners coming up!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Terra Madre and Salone, day 3

I can hardly believe that tomorrow is the already our last day here! Didn't we just arrive? What an intensely packed few days it has been, though. We are having one amazing interaction after another. This morning, we decided to focus on the Slow Food Presidium foods. While interacting with the American delegates and the associated Presidia (US Raw Milk Cheeses booth staffed by Jamie Yturriondobeitia from Shelburne Farms!), we passed by the section of Basque foods and a very sweet old man from behind the booth reached out and started talking to me in several languages, until I understood the Spanish. Turns out he was asking me alternately in Castillian and Basque if I was related to anyone in the Castilla y Leòn region. In fact I am, my paternal grandmother's family is from that region of Spain - generations back, mind you, but I've got roots there. He said he recognized "my Basque face" and proceeded to share with pride his food story. He works with farmers that grow a specific type of corn that they grow in a certain way, all by hand, and mill with an old stone mill for 12 hours and produce very few pounds a year - about 5000 pounds or so. It produces the finest corn flour found anywhere, and they use it to make these small little tortillas that they fill with chorizo and eat with bean soups. It was a really neat connection, and the tortillas were the most fantastic texture I have ever tried - it was almost like a pastry! Neat. I bought some flour, of course - how could I not? Plus, I would love to reproduce that texture. We'll see how it works out! That is just one amazing interaction of dozens today, Thomas has an amazing ability to strike up conversations with farmers that want to adopt him and make him their personal ambassadors to the US on behalf of their special food. Thomas has gotten lots of free products this week - we hope to partake in his goods at some point! Spencer has an amazing ability to get us through the crowds and to the exact places that we long to be - no small feat in a place with oodles of vendors over 5 pavilions! He likes maps.
We tried to just take in the immensity of the entire operation today (still tallying all the vendors). We spent time in the beer garden area just hanging out debriefing the entire experience. We ate prosciutto sandwiches and prosciutto tortellini while people watching for at least two hours. During that time, we had a neat experience being approached by a farmer that we had spoken with at the past couple of PASA conferences. We told him at those conferences that he needed to go to Terra Madre (he was extremely enthusiastic about farming in his Amish community in PA, and we thought he would be a great delegate to Terra Madre). He represents the painfully absent Amish farming community, which is so incredibly important to our sustainable American farming culture. Well, he made it here, and has been completely blown away by this incredible experience - he had been looking for us to thank us for the idea to come, and couldn't believe he found us. He thanked us over and over again and I've gotta admit that it was a nice ego stroke! I feels so good to have opened a door to someone that is definitely going to take this experience back to his farming community and continue inspiring other farmers and potential farmers to keep doing what we are doing and not to give up! That was a super neat connection today because we had a major networking session - he gave us a crash course in quail raising (watch out everybody! Bring on the Half Pint Birds!!), and we talked with him about some pig connections in Vermont. This will be one connection that keeps on growing, I'm sure!
We also connected with our friend Lorenzo, who is from Milan, but we met in Burlington through some of our good friends. We had a wonderful dinner at a pizzeria in Torino tonight, and plan on meeting tomorrow at the Salone to show him around, and probably get him to translate a few things we've been wondering about! Then there's all the shopping and tasting, the networking and shopping, and the hoping that we can bring it all back and also hoping that we have enough room in our baggage for all of our Terra Madre and Salone schwag!
You are not going to believe some of the things we've seen, like gigantic stacks of gigantic wheels of cheese, and 1000 prosciutti legs hanging in a gallery. The thing I keep repeating over and over is, "The Italians don't mess around!" At least in the arena of food, they simply do whatever it takes to create the perfect ______. This applies to everything we've seen from creating a slicer to accommodate a pig leg to storing cheese in logs, hides and even cabbage leaves to stunning results! It's been extremely fascinating and our discussions have been leaning more and more towards the science of taste and how to experience food, which seems like such an elitist way to approach food - but when you see ancient bearded farmers not even thinking twice about inhaling their piece of cheese deeply before letting it sit on their tongue, then chewing it, then breathing over it to oxygenate the aroma, swallowing it, then smiling and sharing the experience with whomever is closest; I realize the science of taste is a peasant culture and one that I intend to embrace, for I am a peasant and proud of it! In that same vein, I actually bought a shirt today that says in Italian, "Prisoner of Taste". I can think of worse things to be accused of!
Well, off to pack and try to sleep - it is actually daylight savings time here tonight, so we get an extra hour of sleeping and digesting time, which is so needed! We will very likely not be able to post again until we return home, so I am looking forward to collating all of the pictures and doing these blogposts justice and adding more about our experience. Thanks for tolerating the non-visual representation of our experience! More once we arrive back in Burlington and upload pictures, and from where I will be armed with a full journal written on the long plane flight home. Arrividerci à tutti!!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Terra Madre, day 2

Today was a fantastic day! We started it off with a class on how to taste. It turns out that we need to throw out all the old zonal tastebud maps - you know the one that shows the tongue and maps out where you sense bitter, sour, sweet, etc. It turns out that all tastebuds sense all the flavor groups - even umami (the sense of flavor, essentially). We then went through a series of stations that challenged you to taste things and learn to describe what you were tasting. It was eyeopening and helped to give us a sense of how to tackle the Salone today. The class session ended with a tasting of apples and chocolate - 3 types of each and we were challenged to determine the differences between them. I must say, it was really a neat experience that made me realize why here in Italy there is actually a masters program in Taste and the science of gastronomy - it is so wide and varied and definitely worthy of science. I will have to check out Harold McGee's book again and brush up on the science of food - it is fascinating!
Then we were off and running to the Salone del Gusto to sample some amazing products - but we got waylaid by the impromptu marketplace that opened up. It was beautiful - all sorts of folks in all their costumes selling their wares from their home countries. We sampled honeys and dried fruits and nuts and even a vodka from Greenland made of 3000 year old glacier ice! Thomas has been the networking ambassador of our trio and usually starts all the halting conversations with fellow farmers from around the world. While cured meats and aged cheeses are certainly well represented here, veggies are definitely in the minority, but Thomas has been great at finding us some veggie farmers to talk with. Spencer's Italian classes have helped us to communicate more effectively and I have been documenting with my pen and camera in hand (pictures to come ASAP!). We divided forces in the Salone and experienced many different wines, cheeses, liquors and breads - even some really good Italian beer!
The end of the day was spent with the entire US delegation, which is 800 members strong! There were several strong speakers talking about the future of Slow Food USA, which is very exciting. I'll collect those notes to make a more coherent pitch tomorrow - but one quick thing that caught my attention was the news that the Slow Food Nation will be marching across the US soon, which I was deeply hoping for!
As we left the Lingotto, we met up with Emmett Dunbar of Anjali Farms here in Vermont, and reconnected with exclamations of how far advanced Vermont is in the agricultural arena. We feel so fortunate to be VT farmers, and we must have been glowing about this because we got snagged by the Terra Madre photo documentation crew that wanted to get a picture of our foursome for posterity. Can't think of a much nicer way to end the day. Ah, off to dinner! Ciao!

Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto!

First things first! We have arrived! Every single part of our travel experience up to this point has been smooth and easy for the first time in years. Now, the next thing - I broke our laptop this morning! I had written a wonderful blogpost and set the computer aside to find that I had pushed the screen in such a way that broke it and has now made the monitor unreadable. MAN!!! Anyway, our hotel has a pretty nice community computer setup, so I will keep trying anyway. For now what this means really, is no pictures until we get back. Oh well!
We had a wonderful day yesterday at the Plenary session, which was the grand entry of the flags of all the countries represented - which is something like 153 countries, 6000 plus farmers, educators and academicians. It truly was an inspiring day filled with costumes and amazing speeches. My favorite was of course Vandana Shiva - always willing to say the hard things to the people that matter. Also of note was the wonderful youth representative, Sam Levin, all of 15 years old reassuring us that the youth "get it" and they are ready to heed the call to grow food for the forseeable future. Someone that young and motivated is truly inspiring! We spent some time grazing at the Salone and tasting around 50 cheeses and too many proscutti to recall! The number of stalls truly is staggering - I will try and get a count today. Well, off to our first sessions and cramped hands from all the notetaking - oh yeah, and then there is the grazing.....