Why do we grow? As a Registered Dietitian and former small family farmer, we dreamed of growing produce for our community, not just our family, since we married. Over the past few years, we’ve been blessed in our preparations as we transitioned to full time market farming spring of 2018 when our first child was born. However, when the nights are short, the rain heavy, and the heat rising, it challenges us to think back to why we do what we do. It has to be a labor of love that we are passionate about.
It seems so simple to say “eat more fruits and vegetables”, but is our food really top quality if it comes from farms hundreds if not thousands of miles away and is laden with chemicals? When deciding on what products to buy for our family, we like to choose what is most healthful for our bodies as well as the options that guarantee that the environmental impact of the purchase is not doing more harm than good. We like to know where our food comes from and how it’s grown.
There are three basic arguments that can be made in favor of choosing organically grown products: the reduced environmental impact, the quality, flavor, and nutritive value, and the reduced toxin load. We have recently seen in the news two landmark stories which dominate the debate surrounding conventional agriculture — the court ruling against Bayer/Monsanto that the weed killer glyphosate caused cancer, and the political debate around the safety of Chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used extensively in vegetable and fruit production. Though both of these issues are important, looking at the long list of fumigants, herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides approved and recommended for use in conventional agriculture, shows that these two are merely the tip of the proverbial chemical iceberg. In addition to harmful chemicals, we also believe it is important to consider other growing practices such as fertilization techniques, crop rotations, animal feeding and waste management. Conventional agriculture relies on chemicals, whereas sustainable agriculture relies on farm management techniques.
By supporting organic agriculture, you are not only reducing the toxin load for you and your family, you are also taking market share from “big ag” companies which dominate the space and have extensive reach by lobbying and advertising. Your money speaks of what you support. Buying organic in the grocery store is a great choice, yet the major organic brands are often owned by large conglomerate producers who produce both organically and conventionally, and you cannot know for sure that the label is strictly adhered to. The only way to know for sure that you’re receiving high quality food that is produced sustainably and supports growers with a living wage is to personally know your farmer and buy local, free of synthetic chemical and fertilizers.
Our family has made the choice to farm in a way that cares for the earth and our bodies. We believe that local sustainably produced produce should not be considered a premium product, but through hard work and advances in organic growing techniques, local farms can compete with national brands and come out on top in all four seasons of the year. Our goal is to help be part of the solution paving the way for more sustainably produced organic food and share the healthy goods we produce with our local community.
With our production season coming down to an end, we feel it is now safe to make an evaluation of our season and draw conclusions which will inform our business decisions going forward. Coming into this growing season we had set some very specific minimum sales goals for our farm, because we do not want to work for years and years, then one day look up and realize that we are no better off than we were years before. In retrospect, this growing season has had its ups and downs, we have had struggles, and we have had days when we felt like quitting. Market farming can truly be a roller coaster ride of emotions, especially when the days are long and things fail - a combination of failures and a tired farmer would bring down anyone’s spirits. We have had thousands of dollars worth of damage from rabbits, broken equipment, and plant diseases, but at the end of the day we were able to produce a substantial amount of high quality product even though we lost so much.
We are proud to announce that this growing season has resulted in enough success that we have eclipsed our minimum sales goal for the summer and still have 8 weeks of farmers markets remaining. We feel that we have been able to address many of the issues that have plagued us through the growing season and we feel poised to be able to go into next year informed having learned invaluable lessons both on the marketing and production sides of our business. We are excited to offer another year of high quality organically grown products to each of you!
If you have interest in helping Wild Coyote Farm meet our goal to become a sustainable supplier of high quality produce to more people, there are a few specific ways you can help!
Paul, Shelli, and Bria
Here's how we are growing and harvesting our baby greens.
Check out how we manage our cucumber and indeterminate tomato plants.
Sunday we went to Glenwood Sunday Market in Chicago. We had a great time and sold lots of greens. We had tons of beautiful lettuces, baby lettuce, baby kale, five kale varieties, strawberries, and herbs. Unfortunately on the way to the market, our back door opened to our trailer and we lost some product :(, including our broccoli and radishes. It was the first time trialing our set up so we learned a few things to improve. The cooler trailer is key to having super fresh product all day!
Our stand is open Fridays noon to dark- if you’re local, come on by. We are only one mile off M-139, on the corner of Hinchman and Amber Jam.
New this past week are tomatoes and strawberries! About half of our tomatoes are now trellised and we are busy planting more crops, harvesting product, and tending to plants. If you'd like some quality time in nature, we'd be happy to take your help :)
The white trailer we picked up very inexpensively, but it was in drastic need of repair and rebuilding. The first step in the process was a paint job. I think it turned out pretty good for a very old trailer! The next steps were to insulate the trailer with ridged foam and add an AC unit paired with “Cool Bot” controller so that the unit can cool all the way down below 40 degrees. Don’t be surprised when you see me drive up with this old trailer attached, but it should be pivotal to making your produce be at the peak of freshness :).
This past week we had a tissue sample done on the raspberries, where they check to see what nutrients the plants might be lacking. When Shelli called me to let me know that the test had come back, I heard her say that everything was deficient when in reality whe said everything was sufficient. What a relief! It feels good to know the things I have been doing for the plants make difference!
Although this is our first post for 2018, we have been busy for months preparing for the season. We finished preparing our land so that we are now growing on over 3 acres of mostly permanent raised beds. We got tons of compost that we spread on top of the beds. Our planting calendar is all set and we have all of our seeds ready for their appropriate planting time. Here are a few highlights of what's currently going on around the farm.
We are using half of our garage/barn for our nursery. It is divided with plastic and heated by the natural gas heater in the garage. We use HPS lights for the plants, which also help to heat the space up. We have beautiful plants growing in there, and some already transplanted to the outdoors. It's been a nice taste of summer to spend days together in the humid warm environment planting trays of plants over the last couple months! Our baby duck also loves this environment and keeps us company when we are working in there :)
Some New Tools
Flame weeder -- Paul's new favorite toy. We have been using it to prep beds before planting to make sure that as many of the weeds are killed off as possible. We solarize beds with black plastic, which promotes weed germination and death, and then we run the flame weeder over the bed prior to planting to kill off any small weeds. The flame weeder will also be used to kill off weeds coming up right before the crop emerges from the ground. This should save time hand-weeding.
Greens harvester -- the greens harvester will be a key tool in harvesting all of our baby mesclun mixes. It runs off a power tool battery to cut and feed the baby greens into a container. This should save tons of time compared to hand cutting with scissors all of the baby greens! The baby greens will then go into a whirlpool wash and then spun dry.
Tractor implements -- we purchased a few new tractor implements this year, but one of the most exciting ones is the one that Paul designed and built - the bed-shaper (pictured). In the past, we have used discs to make new beds but then had to come behind with shovels and rakes to level it off and perfect it. When you have acres of new beds to make, that would take way too long. So Paul made a bed-shaper that he uses to make new beds and then will also be used to re-shape beds in the future as needed. We use mostly permanent raised beds (the only crops we don't do this way are corn, potatoes). Benefits of this method include promoting soil and plant health by not tilling, defined walkways so the growing area is never stepped or driven on, better irrigation management, and more efficient spreading of soil amendments such as compost and manure.
4-row seeder -- this year we purchased a 4-row seeder for planting small crops such as mesclun mixes, beets, carrots with better precision than our 1-row seeder. This will allow for more uniform planting to make weed management easier.
Crates -- two weeks agowe built about 90 wooden crates that we will be using for our CSAs, storage, and display at farmers markets. They are all sturdily hand-crafted and ready to serve up lots of delicious produce! Our CSA is now full and we are looking forward to providing families with their weekly produce.
Plants & Row Covers
We took the risk and planted outside our first succession of cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale and lettuce plants in March under floating row cover fabric. The fabric protects the plants 4 degrees. Obviously, with the record lows we've had recently, we had to put additional black plastic over the plants during some days and nights to protect them. These cold hardy plants seem to have mostly all survived the chilly weather and are growing nicely.
Since then, more successions of cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale, and lettuce plants have been planted; onions are also planted out. Also in the ground are carrots, various baby greens, early potatoes, herbs, snap peas, green beans, radish. The tomato and cucumber plants are being hardened off to be planted out soon. We will put them under heavier floating row cover in case of cold weather.
We are excited to now know our official schedule for farmers markets for this season. We will also have our local farm stand open a couple days a week.
Tuesdays, 8am-1pm, June-October - Kalamazoo (1204 Bank St Kalamazoo, MI)
Thursdays, 3pm-7pm, June-October - Kalamazoo (1204 Bank St Kalamazoo, MI)
5pm-10pm, 3rd Thursday of the month, June-September - Kalamazoo (1204 Bank St Kalamazoo, MI)
Sundays, 9am-2pm, June-October (except Aug 19) - Glenwood Sunday Market
(Southbound Glenwood Avenue between Morse & Lunt on the west side of the CTA's Red Line Chicago, IL)
With both Kona and Zyla coming into heat around the same time and ready for breeding, we decided to vary our puppy breeding a little bit and do one litter of standard poodle puppies and one labradoodle litter this time! We know and love both breeds and are excited to provide more local families with awesome furry family members!
Kona's and Flagger's labradoodle puppies are due in mid-March.
Zyla's and Lincoln's standard poodle puppies are due in the beginning on April.
We chose Lincoln as our poodle stud -- an AKC registered purebred standard poodle who is red with white marking on his head, all four paws, neck and all the way down his chest. He is a 5-year old proven stud who has sired labradoodle and poodle litters for his family and other approved breeders. He has had health testing for genetic hip, elbow, heart, and eye issues and is all clear, he is also clear for vWD disease. He weighs 45 pounds, is very sweet, excellent with children, loving and mellow. He lives with his family in Richland, MI. We are very excited to see what colors of puppies he and Zyla produce in April!
We have spent the past few months searching for the perfect new stud for our females. Important qualities we were looking for were: the health of the stud, that he be part of a great family (not a big breeder or puppy mill), his temperament (friendly, smart, social) and how it would pair with our girls, and his color (looking for apricot/cream like Nacho).
Last week we took Kona and Zyla to the vet for an exam and health testing for prior to the next breeding. She says they both are in great health and she has no concerns. We also discussed with her more about how she would go about examining potential studs and specifics to look for.
On Friday, we spent the day driving around Michigan visiting potential studs that we had contacted. We selected a F1 labradoodle (first generation; 50% lab, 50% poodle; just like Nacho), who lives in Middleville, MI. His name is Flagger and he is 7 years old. He lives with a great family, with one other dog, and he is a proven stud who has sired many labradoodle, goldendoodle, and doubledoodle litters both for approved breeders and his family when they used to breed. We checked out his ears, teeth, body shape, feet, genitals, and ensured he has not had any health issues, is up to date on all vaccines and exams, does not have allergies, etc. He is very friendly, social, and gentle. He is non-shedding with a curly coat and weighs about 60 pounds. He is also CKC registered.
We are excited to see what colors of puppies he and our females produce in the near future! We anticipate Kona's next litter to be born in February and Zyla's first litter in April.
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