Part 1 - The Taste and The SOIL!!
It's serendipitous that we made carrots our logo because so so many people tell me that our carrots are the best they've ever tasted. And it's true, they are truly addictive.
But really, I'm always shocked when I taste something from industrial productions, in comparison to vegetables grown on a small farm. Peppers and tomatoes, beans, watermelons...you name it, they all just taste better when grown on a small farm like ours. But why?
Well, it's a combination of reasons including the seed selection, the climate, water, harvest times and soil health. And it depends on what crops we're talking about. but in general, small farmers are growing for the taste. We want our customers to LOVE our veggies. So we consider all of the things in order to grow the best produce we can.
Another big motivator for us is the environment. And the one way we can protect the environment and even contribute to climate solutions is through our soil. Incidentally, soil health also is key to having good tasting veg!
If we have good soil we have healthy plants that can resist pests and diseases. Healthy soils makes better tasting vegetables that are nutrient dense. Healthy soils makes harvesting and weeding faster.. in general, the resources we put into our soils makes a massive difference in our overall production.
Our goal is to build the aggregation of the soil, season after season. We want to improve, not degrade the soil, while also growing a cash crop. If we were to put a name on it, we practice low till farming.
Low till means we're compacting our soil as little as possible. Compaction kills the soil ecoystem. So in order to avoid compaction, we have permanent beds. This means we don't drive on the "bed".. our tires and feet always hit the same spot. We've had this system in place for few years and it's made a massive difference in soil texture (aggregation). What we endup with is a raised bed that is easier to plant in because the texture is soft. It results in the plants being able to adapt quicker after transplanting and has improved plant health and water retention.
We have had some difficulty transitioning crops and managing weed pressure with this system. But finally, after hours and hours of research and trial and error Robin has fine-tuned our arsenal of tractor-mounted machines and have a system that can reduce weeds while feeding the soil without too many inputs.
Honestly, it's been a bit of a rocky road. The easiest way to practice no-till is to use small scale walk-behind machines and tarps and lots of compost.. it's a brilliant system that indigenous people's have been practicing for millenia (minus the walk-behind machinery) but in recent history people like Eliot Coleman and Jean-Martin Fortier have formulated for small market gardeners. Their work has been pivotal in launching the small farm movement.. but we're just a tinsy bit too big to just rely on this human scale system. For us, we want to grow more food with less labour, allowing us to lower our price on some crops, and ultimately make the work less back-breaking.
The walk-behind, human scale system also relies on off farm compost. We have not found a reliable source of compost and the compost we do find is trucked and has an undisclosed amount of peat, which results in huge CO2 emissions. So our approach is a hybrid and we're kind of making it up as we go along (along with a lot of other farmers who thankfully share their wisdom with each other).
We rely on the natural soil and work to improve soil with as little outside input as possible. Our farm has good soil - Class 1. It's loamy with a touch of sand in some spots, a pinch of clay in others and a whole lot of peaty-mulch in one field. Ultimately, this soil is our best resource. We consulted soil maps when shopping for farms and this farm landed on one hell-of-a-good strip of class 1 agricultural soil. So we do our best to protect and improve this resource.
Our system relies heavily on cover crop- this is a green crop of mixed legumes and cereals that we cut down to feed the soil. This biomass feeds the bacteria and fungi in the soil while smothering weeds and reducing erosion. It's a big expense for us. We do 1-2 years of veggie crop and then cover for a year to feed and restore the soil. This cycle also helps stop disease from building up. Covercrop seed alone runs about $3000/year and then on top of that we have the expense of spending time managing those fields. But at the end of the day, it's still a lot cheaper than buying in compost to layer and feed the soil. And it pays off in healthier plants and higher quality produce (while still growing at a scale that can support our team year round).
An example of some machinery that has changed the game for us is the powerharrow and flame weeder. In one pass, with the mower on the front and the powerharrow on the back of the orange Kabota tractor, we can chop down a green crop and till the soil in a way that makes the least impact as possible (for this method of farming), making it almost ready for a new crop. You can check it out here on our instgram: https://www.instagram.com/p/Cw5tleYABur/
This has reduced our tractor time and shortened the window the soil is exposed. As soon as soil is exposed it starts releasing carbon, the biology starts to suffer, making it susceptible to erosion from wind and rain.. .basically undoing all the work that covercrop was doing in the first place. So finally, we've got the equipment that helps us prepare beds for veggies without exposing the soil for too long.
Better soil integrity also means we're more resilient to massive rain events or droughts. the soil sponge can hold on water reducing runoff and holding on to water for dry times.
And I haven't even gotten to the greater environmental impact of soil: uncovered soil releases carbon, while soil with plants is sequestering soil.
And, ultimately, we're feeding soil to feed plants so that we can feed you delicious, nutritious vegetables. So here's to soil!
If you want to know more about the wonders of soil and it's effect on the climate, spend some time looking through this website: www.kisstheground.com. There's a lot to unpack there!