Thursday, September 3, 2009
I report with great regret that once again Multnomah County has ramped up their code enforcement team against us. As you might already know, the code enforcement decision of Multnomah County is driven by complaints. Last August a complaint was filed by my neighbor about commercial activities that were going on at the farm --farm concerts, farm to plate weddings, birthday parties, etc. The complaint had nothing to do with the usual things that people complain about, such as noise or rowdy behavior. But instead it was about land use. (It is interesting to note that the neighbor has a history of complaining about a wide range of issues, and he also had a significant measure 37 claim filed that was rejected). Previous to any complaint, we met with attorneys to discuss what we were doing and whether these activities were allowed. I was advised that our 1982 farm stand permit allowed what we were doing, but at anytime the county might require us to update that permit. In August of last year that process began with the filing of the complaint. Over the next 10 months we spent $40,000 with attorneys, land use planners, and traffic engineers to develop a comprehensive plan to make our case for continuing the farm activities that were critical to our economic future and survival at the farm.
Ultimately, Multnomah County made their decision to reject a number of activities with what we believe are weak arguments. One such argument was "you can have a wedding or a birthday party anywhere." But thankfully they allowed the concert series because of the huge public out cry(when the public realized that this amazing family celebration at the farm was going to be taken away).
What has been particularly disturbing about the land decision is that Multnomah County has sanctioned high impact fall carnivals. Examples of this are haunted corn maizes, which are nothing more than an outdoor haunted house, often bringing in rowdy teenagers. These events require hiring a large number of employees called "corn cops" to manage the crowd. Other activities such as cow-trains, pumpkin cannons, bouncy house, and catapults are often included. The sanctioning of the carnival is allowing some farms to get even more creative, by adding additional corn maizes for specific purposes such as haunting. The corn maize loop hole is so big you can imagine additional maizes created for almost anything...een a tractor-pull maize.
Multnomah County has made it clear in our decision that high impact fall carnival activities are OK. But farm to plate weddings -- beautiful low impact celebrations of farm food that embrace the new local food culture are not allowed. Many worry that allowing farm to plate weddings on farmland would encourage this to become a wide spread "problem" across the state. This domino effect is unlikely given the strict limitations of Farm Stand Guidelines, specifically the 75-25 rule. This rule dictates that only 25% of gross revenue on a farm stand can come from fee based activities. The strict nature of this limitation will limit the number of farms that can hold wedding as well as the number of weddings they can hold. The prohibitive expense of obtaining a Farm Stand Permit would also limit the number of farms that might choose to hold weddings on their property.
We are fortunate that the county requirements to update our farm stand permit came last year. For 5 years we were able to do 150 farm to plate dinners, which allowed us to generate enough revenue to purchase the farm in January of 2008. Without the fee based activities, this would have been the last year on the farm as our original 10 year lease would have expired. A gate would then be across the road and this farm would have become a commercial nursery (which is what the farm was going to be before I stepped up at the last second).
Before the county stepped in to stop our low impact farm to plate weddings, I had plans to purchase the back 80 acres to complete my vision of a public farm. The public farm concept is that on any day of the year one could walk the farm and watch it go through its seasonality. If you find a field of berries...go pick it. It you see some lettuce...cut it. If you see a berry... eat it. You can take your family on regular walks around our farm throughout the year. Watch the farm change... make it your farm. No signs telling you to keep out or no trespassing. At the beginning of the year I leased the back 80 acres from the Grande's on a 5 year lease with potential option to buy. The acquisition of the land ended a 9 year, sometimes contentious relationship with a commercial plant nursery. Spraying was intense, with lots of keep out signs. Those signs ended with my lease. The new land has given me opportunities to expand my plantings and most important returned it to what it originally was... a 160 acre public farm. Purchasing the land will be necessary and investing in farm infrastructure is crucial. Tractors, trucks, irrigation equipment, passive greenhouses to stretch seasons out to reduce trucking vegetable from California are all on hold because of the economic loss of the farm supporting fee based activities.
And now Multnomah County has taken yet another swipe at us! Rather then going into the details of this in my blog ... my wife has given a detailed account on our website. Click here to read all about the latest action by the county. Once you read it, if you have the time, please contact your county commissioner to express your concerns.
Once again... thank you for your support. I want you to know when I am down, all I do is take a walk around this farm... then it all feels worth it.
Monday, August 10, 2009
- Tomatoes: Everyday we get more, I have personally picked all of the tomatoes -- 200 lbs yesterday. I have never seen a better fruit set. I continued to starve the plants of water and have not watered any of my tomatoes for a month. I also recommend pruning back your tomato plants on September 1st. Just top them off to stop production of new fruit which you'll never get. Doing this will help ripen the fruit already on the plant. One last tip: pick your tomatoes when they just start to get a little red. Let them fully ripen off the vine. The flavor difference is minimal and you'll end up with more ripe fruit.
- Corn is spectacular. I'm picking two varieties: Bodacious and Peaches & Cream. Taste it at our corn roaster on the weekends.
- Cucumbers: I seem to have gotten control of my pickling cucumber fields. I wish I had the discipline to walk away from a field sooner. I finally started throwing away (fed to the pig) the big cucumbers and suddenly the field started working better. I have two more fields coming on in the next few weeks, so we'll be picking a lot of pickles.
- Squash is coming on big time. Last week we had a big zucchini give away at the concert. Free is always a good price.
- Flowers are amazing -- Zinnias, Dahlias, Gladiolas, Sunflowers -- come and pick them.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
.Yesterday (Tuesday), it was so hot I felt like my skin hurt. I made the mistake of picking some ripe tomatoes and some big green ones at 9 a.m. I got a little overheated and paid for it the rest of the day. It seems like everyone at the farm finds excuses to go hang out in the walk in cooler...
Heat of this kind is difficult for the farm on many levels. First, we can't keep up with irrigation. Secondly, retail sales are halved because no one wants to be out in the heat. Finally, our wholesale sales come to a screeching halt because other stores are dead also. Our best pickling cucumber field has become a burden as sales have stalled. Do I walk away from the field? Do I cut pick half of it and then abandon the other half? I have to figure something out because a new field is about to overlap. When pickling cucumbers get big you can sell them as "nickel pickles" (an old term for selling large cukes at a nickel). I seem to be getting some wholesale interest in these. But then I have to drive around in the heat to the wholesalers. Is it worth it? It might be worth it if it keeps the fields going and sales pick up again. This is when the farming gets tough.
On more positive notes:
- We are picking great corn. Our first ever in July.
- Beans are plentiful -- Romans, Blue Lakes, Yellow and French.
- We picked our first shell beans yesterday.
- Tomatoes are beginning to ripen. Garden tip: Stop watering if you want ripe fruit. I have not watered my tomatoes for 2 weeks. I am not going to water them again.
- Picked 8 flats of a great ever-bearing strawberry variety that I am really excited about. They sold quickly. Next year I have planted five times as many. This means next year I'll have about 50 flats of these berries that are just sooo good.
Thursday night's concert (www.krugersfarmmarket.com/summerfun.html) will be hot, but not as hot as the last couple of days. It should be around 98 degrees which will feel cool compared to 105. We'll have the big sprinklers going and have brought in a big tent for shade. The concert will go a little later until around 10 p.m. when it's a little cooler. Come on out and have a great summer night...
Thursday, July 23, 2009
We are going to get a little break before the extreme heat comes to the region. With the heat, there may be a quick end to the berry season. But this weekend it will still be going strong. Raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries and blueberries will all be ripe for the picking. The hot weather will ripen the corn and tomatoes faster and our first corn of the year will be picked this weekend.
Our cucumber field is producing at a record pace, but the picklers are slow to get started. I have had to hustle wholesale sales to keep the fields fresh and so far I have succeeded. We are picking 800 lbs. per pay.
I haven't had a lot of energy to write lately with all of the farm responsibilities, but I thought is was important to get an update. I have worked 60 straight days, but may take a day off next week which would help me get my second wind.
Monday, July 13, 2009
But through this difficult Farm Stand Permit process with the county - one that has opened up comment from all sides of the fence - I realize that our farm is not universally loved. Last evening reading the on-line comments on an Oregonian article about the permit, I could see we are also passionately disliked. I try not to be pained by the comments, but they still do hurt. These folks see the scores of people wandering my farm as a negative. They criticize me for having come up with a model of success. They preferred it when they could drive by my farm back in the beginning and think to themselves "He'll never make it" or "He knows nothing about farming." What is most bothersome about these comments is the notion that I don't really farm and that the farm is a "front" for some sort of event business. Well, let's talk about how much I do farm:
10 acres of strawberries
6 acres of raspberries
2 acres of boysenberries
3 acres of blackberries (Marions & Katatas)
8 acres of corn (5 plantings)
6 acres of beans (6 plantings)
15 acres of pumpkins
6 acres of pickling cucumbers
1 acre of beats and carrots
1 acre of broc., cauliflower, and cabbage
2 acres of lettuce (8 plantings)
1 acre summer squash
7 acre Corn Maze
4 acres Blueberries
2 acres tomatoes
3 acres of flowers
25 acres of wheat harvested by a neighbor
10 acres of rotation ground
3 greenhouses full of early and late season stull
All done with me and four farm workers. You have to say this is one hell of a front for an event business.
My farm continues to grow. The success of the farm events has contributed the financial resources to only buy the front 80 acres of the farm but start leasing the back 80 acres. The additional financial resources are contibuting to additional investing in more farming. This is exactly what the legislature intended when they came up with the rules regarding Farm Stands. They intended to give farms the ability to succeed so they can farm more.
Finally I am not happy with the decision made by the county (found on our website www.krugersfarm.com). Yes, the beloved concert series has been saved. A corn maze with the ability to create an outdoor haunted house is allowed. Children's birthday parties are a code violation. Sweet farm to plate weddings with couples exchanging vows under an oak tree celebrating with food and flowers picked at the farm are not allowed. We're considering whether to appeal.
P.S. Thankfully -- there will be a concert this Thursday. (www.krugersfarmmarket.com/summerfun)
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Last August after a six-year run of giving families one of the finest farm experiences imaginable, the county contacted us and let us know that we needed to update our farm stand permit to include the concerts and other similar activities. We agreed to sign a "Voluntary" Compliance Agreement to cease these sorts of events until our permit was updated. We then began the arduous process which went on all winter. Multiple thousands of dollars have been spent putting together a 70-page document that finally was deemed complete in mid-May. Shortly thereafter, the public comment period began. The county received more than 180 positive comment letters and only 12 negative letters. The negatives were what you would expect -- like my mother always said "not everyone is going to like you."
Now the county sits with the decision. What are they waiting for?? From our conversations with our land use planner, we know the decision has been made. We'd like to know what it is so we can proceed (or not) with our summer plans. We want to continue this great tradition and need to know the outcome. Tonight the farm will be empty. Maybe I'll light a candle in silent memorial.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
On the berry front. After a one day gap in which we barely had a berry in the store, we are now making our transition to caneberry fruit. Kitata blackberries, marions, boysens and raspberries are all about to explode (almost literally). By this Friday we should be loaded with berries for the 4th of July weekend. Strawberries, except for some foraging, are done for the year.
Blue Lake green beans are coming in -- 500 lbs picked today. Our French beans are amazing. Corn continues to tassle for a July 20 harvest and we'll have a handful of pickling cucumbers this weekend.
It's 5:30 a.m. in the morning (when I wrote this, obviously entered later). It's a cool 50 degrees with the sun rising over Mt. Adams. Our home has big windows and fabulous views from Mt. Ranier to Mt. Hood. On the summer Solstice the sun rises just to the north of Mt. Adams. This morning it was directly over the top of Adams which means it's moving back. On the winter Solstice, the sun comes up on the other side of Mt. Hood. I write my blog from my favorite spot looking out at the mountains(and down on Sauvie Island). I love my home, but sometimes miss waking up and walking to work on the farm. Not this morning...with this view.
Friday, June 26, 2009
The cool weather is stretching out strawberries for one last weekend. It has become a hunt, but the rewards are still great.
Blueberries are slowly becoming more plentiful, but the big harvest is still a week away.
I ate by first boysenberry last night, but all of the blackberry varieties seem a week away.
We picked yellow beans Thursday. Our first Blue Lake and French beans will be picked on Sunday. One month early because of our new ground.
The weather this weekend looks beautiful, perfect for berry picking...
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
This is the time when some folks start to complain about our berry season. The season is winding down, but I still sometimes hear "What is wrong with the berries this year?" or "This is not worth my time." Strawberry season is a short one here in Oregon and you need to get them while they're ripe or the time simply runs out.
We've been making a simple vanilla frozen yogurt recipe that we found in this month's Sunset magazine. It's amazingly simple (2 ingredients) and the tartness goes great with strawberries and raspberries. Perfect if you have a counter-top ice cream maker that largely goes unused (like the one in our house.) Click here for a link to the recipe.
Special for blog readers.
I won't open my raspberry u-pick fields until the weekend, but will have a "first-chance preview day" this Friday especially for my blog readers. I also have some peas you can pick and eat if you find me at the farm.
Farm to do List
My list of tasks for the week.
1) Begin preparing the final plots for the last planting of corn, cucumbers and beans.
2) Reshape last flower beds for planting September flowers.
3) Stake tomatoes.
4) Prune blackberries.
5) Mow all caneberry fields.
6) Weed eat weeds in blueberries.
7) Cultivate pumpkins.
8) Fertilize, water and cultivate corn.
9) Weed third cucumber field
10) Continue watering berry fields.
11) Water, water, everywhere...
12) Research how best to handle late bearing strawberry fields.
Obviously, I have a busy week ahead...
Friday, June 19, 2009
The secret "Blog" field will continue to give larger berries through the weekend, but the general public will begin to go there as other fields run out of berries.
This is our big Berry Jam celebration weekend. Despite the forecast, I expect weather breaks throughout the weekend. The background music will be great! I especially like the New Iberians on Father's Day. We will have a big tent left over from a wedding, so there will be weather protection. Please put on your boots and join us for this event.
I am still noticing raspberries and blueberries, but haven't opened the u-pick fields on these berries yet. But I am thinking about a preview day late next week exclusively for the blog readers...
See you at the farm.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I was pleased this weekend with the number of blog readers who came up to me looking for the special strawberry field. It made me realize that I am being read. After nearly 40 years of writing personal journals, I was the first time that anything that I have written has been read. I have to say it's kind of a personal thrill. But it did also get me wondering where to go with it. Sometimes I want to do simple stuff like publishing my farm to do list once a week. Some might find in interesting, some may find it a complete bore. Perhaps continuing to title the blog entries can help. If a blog says The Farm to do List and you find it's not for you, you can pass it over. Still not sure here and would like some feedback.
At times I want to just report what goes on around the farm without structure. There are so many stories, so many moments.
Weather for the week looks like more of what we have had for the last ten days. Lots of morning clouds. Some breaks of sun. Maybe a little warmer. Maybe some showers mid week and late in the weekend, but nothing serious or organized at this point. Just plain good strawberry weather.
There are few raspberries turning red. Blueberries turning blue, but so far only enough for me and birds to forage. By the weekend it might be better. Let's hope...
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The general model consensus appears to maintain some weak disturbances over the Pacific Northwest. Given differences in the models, details are not to be trusted. It is difficult to argue with keeping in some low canes of showers for much of the week.What does this mean? After two weeks of remarkable summer-like conditions, we have moved into a classic Northwest June weather pattern of morning clouds and afternoon clearing with highs around 70 degrees. Sometimes the clouds will not clear off, like last Sunday, creating a condition often referred to as June Gloom. Long range predictions by local weather people showing graphic images of what the day will be are almost useless, as one never knows until that day whether the sun will break through or not. During these periods, we may get beautiful evenings as the gloom finally burns off and the temperatures rise to a perfect 70 degrees. Until I farmed, I would moan about this weather pattern which could often hold until around July 10th, when our summer usually begins. As a farmer of berries, I welcome the June Gloom. The pattern is perfect for slower ripening of all of the berries.
The Strawberry Report
Strawberries continue to be abundant, although my newer fields closer to the store should dramatically improve as slower weekday picking give the fields a chance to ripen. My newest field in the back is producing sensational quality berries, but is not easy to find. Keeping with my policy of self discovery, I make no announcements of where that field is, but if you come to me personally and ask I will let you in on its location. That way, I'll know you're a blog reader and have made it this far in my essay.
There were actually a few ripe blueberries which I ate before the birds. What a surprise! They may be ready along with raspberries before our Berry Jam event on Father's Day weekend.
Projected Berry Dates:
Raspberries: June 17 - August 1
Blueberries: June 17 - August 10
Marionberries: July 1 - August 1
Boysenberries: July 1 - August 1
Our pickling cucumbers will be ready by July 20th.
Friday, June 5, 2009
At 3:30, I walked into the office to look at the radar. I was stunned at what I saw. There was a huge band of yellow, red and, almost never seen here, purple about 40 miles out and clearly moving in our direction. I said to Susan, my associate, "I have never seen radar like this before!" It immediately sent waves of fear through me as I realized that this super-cell had the potential of producing substantial hail which could destroy my early strawberry harvest. I love storms and could even see myself as a storm chaser some day. But I wanted no part of this one.
As I continued to watch the radar over the next half an hour, the super-cell continued to move closer. The movement began to show me some hope that we might not get a direct hit, but it was still difficult to tell.
I went outside and there was an eerie silence. You could see the storm in the distance. It looked ominous. I began to warn u-pickers in the field. I mobilized the staff to secure things that could blow away. I pulled my crew off of weeding to cut Peonies that I thought could be ruined. The farm was buzzing with anticipation.
At 4:45 the wind suddenly began to kick up. I waved everyone in from outside and we huddled in the store with the doors closed. The wind became fierce. Huge clouds of dust blew across the farm in a scene I had never witnessed before. The roof rocked and adrenaline was flowing. Some heavy rain came but it was clear we were going to miss the brunt of it. No hail and no damage to the strawberries. What a relief!
There is the potential of a spectacular strawberry harvest this weekend. With 7 fields ripening on the farm, I think supply has the potential of keeping up with demand. Picking conditions could be ideal as we move into a more marine influence with morning clouds and cool temperatures. These are ideal conditions for slowly sealing in the strawberries' sweet flavor.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Because of the huge demand, sometimes the fields can get hammered. Late in the day on a Saturday or Sunday it can be slim pickings. So, rather than getting mad a Farmer Don about quantities, you may want to map out a new picking strategy:
Consider week night picking, especially Thursday and Friday when the fields have had a chance to recover from the weekend. We stay open until sunset so there are often 3 - 4 hours of picking possible after work. The fields are often empty and the sunsets are beautiful.
Date night recommendation from Farmer Don.
Guys, are you struggling to find creative and fun new things to do on a date night? Are you tired of movies, dinner out or even bowling? How about surprising your date with a picnic of fabulous take out food (available anywhere), a bottle of wine (don't forget the corkscrew) and come out to the farm for romantic evening of picking strawberries until sunset.
This week's ripening looks encouraging. After a weekend of brisk sales, the fields are recovering and the weather looks potentially perfect for a monster harvest next weekend. I am excited about the potential here. Conditions look ideal.
P.S. Don't forget to pick a peck of peonies. They will be in full bloom over the next two weeks.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Nothing on the farm creates more anxiety for me than not seeing my sprinklers going. A few years ago, I had one of my best and worst water days. The morning started gloriously. The farm looked great. Everything seemed to be under control. As the day wore on, the temperature climbed into the low 90's. I walked outside and saw there wasn't any water running. I had that sinking feeling. It turned out that my pump was down and it would take 10 days to get it fixed, this at the hottest time of the year. At that time, I was leasing the 80 acres I now own and Bailey's Nursery was leasing an adjacent parcel from the same land owner (today I lease this land as well). I thought up a plan to use some of their water to get through the crisis. It was tough and I never forgot the experience.
This week we began irrigating. Two days into it, the water went down. For a couple of days we struggled to figure out the problem. Finally we decided that the pipe in the river must be clogged. Within hours, the water began to flow again. I could see the rain bird sprinklers running over the entire farm. My day was better.
Strawberries continue to ripen. With the warm weather, the berries should size up and ripen. This weekend there should be berries for the hunters among us. Next weekend the season will really be going strong. One week ahead of last year. One week later than two years ago.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
If you come out to the farm (www.krugersfarm.com) this weekend you can wander the fields looking for a ripe berry. Make it a treasure hunt. If you find one...eat it...it's free. It could be fun.
The BBQ is open this weekend. We are also hoping to fire up the corn roaster. Come out and have a picnic, the farm is beautiful in the spring.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Farming continues to go well. The peas are almost ready. We are picking our first lettuce and, once we start harvesting lettuce, we will have continuous pickings of successions until the end of October. This weekend we are planting our third succession of corn, our first big cucumber field, a third planting of beans and 1 1/2 acres of tomatoes.
My early small plantings of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage look average. Some kind of root maggot is getting about a quarter of the plants and those pesky flea beetles are eating holes in the leaves. Since I don't spray, we'll see if the bugs get more of the plants than me. I always do much better in the fall when the problem bugs are gone.
Last night, before heading home, I picked a lone misshapen red strawberry about the size of my thumbnail. I ate it and symbolically began my strawberry season. But before you come out excited about picking, you need to realize that you might find 5 more ripe berries over 10 acres. With this great window of weather, I am starting to think that the first berries will be here on the last weekend of the month. Our favorite flower, Peonies, will also be here in big supply at the end of May.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I've had a life-time interest in the weather. When I was eight years-old living in Los Angeles, I was fascinated by a series of storms that flooded the area. I began keeping weather charts and measured rain in a glass with a ruler. My career as a farmer has taken my weather interest to a new level. Each morning I review the National Weather Service discussion page (a technical analysis of weather patterns). Then I go to the Weather-Underground site for a review of local and regional radar. I combine all of this with my personal understanding of how the patterns play out, add a little advice from Matt Zafino, and suddenly I have the day's weather all figured out (I think).
We are closing in on our first peas and lettuce --- maybe Memorial Day weekend. Right now we still have a lot of rhubarb and arugula from the greenhouses.
Hot items in the store:
Baby avocados -- 3 for $1 -- great value, great taste, little seeds.
Corn from California. Not inexpensive, but well worth the price.
Friday, May 8, 2009
I am seeing marble-sized strawberries in the field and that means we may see our very first berries by Memorial Day weekend...only 18 days away! However, our cool weather could delay berries until later in June. I am always concerned about mold and disease issues related to wet weather because I do not spray. But, it has worked for more that three years, so I'm always cautiously optimistic.
We have lots of rhubarb right now and will be harvesting our first arugula out of our greenhouse this weekend. My first peas and lettuce will be ready in about two weeks.
I found some wonderful yellow corn from the desert of California. This corn is tender and sweet and available in our store. It's not inexpensive at 80 cents an ear, but if you're in the mood for corn, it's worth the price (4 ears = 1 Latte). Our own corn won't be ready until mid-July...
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
The farm is opening this weekend, with an easter egg hunt and a first-look at spring on the farm. Of course, we'll have our normal store filled with the tastiest produce you can find. Visit my website www.krugersfarm.com for more information on the festivities.
I'm back to the tractor. The sun's shining, so I'm plowing...