April 25, 2012

Run and Gun

Apologies, there's not going to be much meat to this post. Or, perhaps any post from here until September. But photos. You'll get lots of photos. And recipes. (And sentences that aren't really sentences, apparently.)

Because folks, we've headed straight on into run and gun season.

This week, we plowed, planted, transplanted, direct seeded, weeded (I know! Already!), rototilled, fixed the fork lift, rode bikes (see photo below of the one in the family who is happiest about it finally being bike weather), worried and worried about the weather (We HAVE to get this in the ground if it's going to rain Thursday, etc. etc.) and prepped for our 150 heritage turkeys, which are scheduled to arrive at the Post Office Thursday morning.

(Really, they arrive via U.S. Post. Think of showing up at the counter and asking for a book of the forever stamps and, why not, 150 turkeys while you're at it.)

We will make our first CSA deliveries in a little more than a month. A month. Our two farm apprentices arrive starting in a week.

That is all to say: It's on.

A few highlights from the first week of the rest of our year:

Aforementioned stoked bike passenger. 

(Note: I need to stay in shape and get out the farm these days (we live 3.5 miles away from the farm -- that's a whole other story) so voila -- my friend Steph saved the day with letting us borrow this bike trailer. Two birds, one stone. Or actually, like 10 birds. 
Mama can get to the farm while she tones her quads and toddler gets in a good nap, shaded and happy and protected from blood-sucking insects and whatnot.)

Next: The field that will transform in less than two months from mere soil to a sea of vegetables...

Cute kid in aforementioned field...

Kid taking a snack break after a hard 10 minutes in said field...

And finally, how every one of my to-do lists starts recently. 
Because if I don't remind myself, I will forget or put it off and then I've become that lady...

April 16, 2012

Spring Thaw

Saturday, it was 70 degrees.

Sunday, it was snowing and 30.

Welcome to spring in Montana.

But no complaints from the Cowgills. If there are two things we love, they're digging in the dirt and snuggling up, baking cookies and watching the snow fall.

This weekend, we got a little of both.

Friday was our first day on the farm as a family. Jacob has been out a lot prepping and raking and digging but Willa and I haven't spent much time in the dirt in the last few months. So, it was heavenly on Friday -- to feel the soil, to actually put seeds in the ground and mostly, just feel like we're doing something.

Spring is always a little nerve wracking. We spend February through April planning and marketing -- talking to customers, writing fliers, trying out recipes, planning crop rotations and caring for seedlings. It all seems so tenuous. There is so much time between now and that first cutting of basil or that first red tomato. And so much can happen in that time frame.

The whole farm is just an idea right now. And when you're do-ers like Jacob and I are, it can be difficult to sit and wait and just hope -- that seedlings grow, that the ground thaws, that customers sign up, that the plants will bear fruit, that the turkeys will survive.

So, when we finally get to do something -- dig, prep, plant -- it actually starts to feel real. We can see the farm unfolding in front of us, out of an idea and into a reality, bed by bed, row by row.

Several things have us super excited about this season. One is that we finally feel like we might be on top of things. Last year, with me at home with Willa as a new baby and Jacob still working full-time we were constantly behind.

This year, we seem to have figured out the greenhouse situation (well, Jacob has) and we're actually on time, if not ahead of our planting schedule. And, we're ahead of the game on sign ups for our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription program (partially because we've branched out and expanded our delivery area to include Helena). You can't imagine how good all of that feels.

The second thing is that we have two interns coming to help us this season. We're beyond excited to have the help, but more than that, we're so excited to glean the energy they'll bring to the farm and teach them all we have to teach about food and farming.

The third thing is that we may have yet another helper in this little bean this season.

Last year, for a majority of the season, Willa was in the crawling, everything-(including turkey poop)-in-the-mouth stage so we didn't get a whole lot of time on the farm. I took over customer service and marketing and packaging and delivering, but I didn't do a whole lot of the digging/planting/weeding work.

And, I'll admit (reluctantly), I actually missed the manual labor.

This year, with a walking, talking Willa Bean -- someone I can reason with (to a point) and someone who will listen when I tell her not to do something (like eat turkey poop), I envision all three of us having more regular family farm days. 

I'm guessing it will look a lot like this:

Or this:

But, maybe not always like this: (Early season, it's easy to be happy to be outside and working. By August, I'm not so sure I'll be so smiley.)

April 9, 2012

Cheap Food and Changing How We Value What Nourishes Us

We're off to Helena tomorrow to speak at a Grow Local event for the Helena Community Gardens with a few of our favorite farmer-friends.

So, for the last few weeks, we've been thinking and talking about what we're going to say. We want to talk about all sorts of things, but what's been heaviest on our minds as we prep for another growing season on our little farm is, in two words: cheap food.

We've been really struggling to figure out how in a depressed economy, when families are watching every penny, we can make the case for paying a little more for locally-produced food. And, how do we ensure that local food -- food that's produced ethically and with community and health in mind -- doesn't just become, for lack of a better descriptor, designer food?

In our own small world, we've recently been feeling some pressure, from let's just call them false CSAs. As you might know, CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture" and this type of direct-marketing has blossomed in the last 10 years as a wonderful, sustainable way to sell and support local food. Basically, you "buy-in" to the farm at the beginning of the season and you reap the benefits when the farm starts bearing fruit. It connects farmer with eater.

Because of the popularity of CSAs, false CSAs have started to pop up -- programs that package like a CSA, but source the produce from all over, including globally, and dramatically undercut both the economics and the spirit of the CSA concept.

One recently moved into our community and we've definitely seen a drop in interest in our CSA and have been just flabbergasted by the quick popularity of the other program. But, it's not hard to see why -- their boxes are year-round, often featuring produce we can't grow locally and are about half a much as ours (although their organic version is priced about the same as ours.)

We've been struggling with how to approach this competition because while we can compete on quality, freshness and knowing your food (there's no comparison in these regards), the price is something we just can't tackle.

And, if price is the only thing people care about, then whammo, we're in the wrong business.

Basically, if we can't produce the cheapest food (which we absolutely can't -- we can't compete with the "efficiency" of our modern food system, year-round growing conditions abroad, cheap labor, etc.) what is our value proposition? Nutrition? Community? Environmental health?

To that end, I've been just fascinated by looking at this within a framework of household spending. We're now paying less for our food than any other time in the last century and I believe we're all suffering for it. Our health, our communities and our environment are all suffering for it. (See this recent piece from Time Magazine that explores the "High Cost of Cheap Food.")

Yet, when we budget our money, we're happy to pay $120 a month for cable packages or $500 for an iPad, but an extra $10 a week on groceries -- to pay for something we actually need to survive -- is sometimes where we draw the line.

This graph, showing the share of family spending per category over the 20th century, from this recent Atlantic article that illustrates this point well. (More in depth on how this happened here.)

Now, I'm not saying that food shouldn't be affordable. It certainly should be.

But, we need to more fully explore the difference between "affordable" and "cheap."And, I would posit, that we also need to think about not only the monetary value we put on food, but also the nutritional, social, environmental value as well.

Still, as much as I believe all of that, we're really struggling with how to make the case to a family who is strapped for cash (and especially because we are certainly in that category) that the cost of their food shouldn't be their only concern.

That is to ask: How can we make local food "affordable" for all, but more importantly, how can we change the way we all see and value the food we put on our tables?

April 3, 2012

Hello, *Mom*

Three things conspired this weekend to give me a fuller picture of who/what I've become.

First, I start to notice that with more regularity, Willa has taken to shortening Mama -- the sweetest words ever uttered from her lips -- to straight-up Mom. As in, my Mom, like my Mom.

As in whatever, Mom.

As in Mom! Mom! Mom! I want some juice! 

Mama is my preferred name (and luckily, the one Willa chose -- at first, at least). It's earthy and sweet, with a little cadence. And, it also pairs equally nice with "hot" as in "hot mama" and "zen" as in "zen mama" and also with "hey" as in "hey mama, aren't you looking hot and zen?"

But Mom? I wasn't sure I'd hit that yet.

But then, this weekend, after a nice walk, I settle into the back yard with friends and I pour myself a nice glass of white wine. Just to class it up, I decide it needs an ice cube (kudos to my Mama friend Jule for this idea). And then -- oh gawd, I can't believe I'm admitting this -- I later throw in a little bit of 7Up.

To make a spritzer.  

A white wine spritzer.

Finally, the last straw was that as Willa and I are strolling downtown, I catch a glimpse my reflection in a store window in the skinny jeans I've been trying to rock. I'm shocked to find that instead of the hip, fashion-forward Mom I'm attempting to be, I look a bit more like this:

If you see me at Christopher and Banks and I'm trying on a nice applique vest, stop me.  


// If you're already here, when did you know you'd hit Momdom?


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