Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's Just Too Hot!

.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 ( 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

The Decision is Final

The two week appeal period ended at 4:30 yesterday. The concert series has been sanctioned by the County. I believe we now can have confidence that this beloved event will continue for as long as we have the farm and probably beyond.

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.

Farmer Don

Monday, July 13, 2009

Really Farming

There are scores of people who love our farm. I think they see my vision of an open farm that allows you to wander and discover. No signs telling you what to do or not to do. If you find a field you like -- pick it. If you find a 200-year old oak tree with grass underneath -- stop and have a picnic. If you see a sprinkler going on a hot day -- run through it. In the winter when many of the walking areas on the island are closed for hunting, you can still take a walk on my farm. The gate always open. So open, in fact, we removed the gate last year.

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 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.

Farmer Don

P.S. Thankfully -- there will be a concert this Thursday. (

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Frustrated with the Process

Tonight, in the past, our concert series would have begun. Three hundred families would gather on a beautiful summer night to listen to Lisa and Her Kin, The New Iberians, Jackstraw or some other local band. The hayride would be going out to the berry fields. Phil would have the BBQ going. The corn roaster would be turning out its ears. And, tonight the big sprinkler would be going because it's so hot. And, lest we forget - Farmer Don (me) - would give his talk on what's in season. But tonight the farm will be dark.

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

Busy Days

Without questions the period of June 20th - July 10th is my most intense work period of the year. A combination of the heavy berry harvest, end of season farm plantings, weeding everywhere and lots of irrigation has me working 13 hour days. And, then throw in a visit from my African basket wholesaler who decided to visit for five days and my life is just a little bit crazy these days.

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.