Author Archives: knusskern

NOFA-MASS Seminar: Farm Profitability: Season Extension and Marketing for the Small Farm

Ben from NOFA_MASS recorded the sessions-

Session 1 – Farm overview, soil, fertility, disease, economics

Introduction: Soils, markets and finances at Kilpatrick Family Fam

Goals and Purpose of Year-Round Farming

Soil Health


Fertility management

Beneficial insects


Economics of High Tunnel Production

Economics of Winter Growing: budgets, depreciation and labor costs






Mass 1 b

Session 2 – Farm Systems for Field Production, Tunnel Structure Intro

Washing and Packing Resources
Storage Facilities

Tunnel overview

Transplant/propagation houses
Greenhouses Manufacturers
Venting options



Session 3 – Greens for tunnels and season extension
Irrigation, row cover and other tools of the trade

Seed suppliers



Session 4  Marketing the Farm
The Why of Marketing
Educate the consumer



Response to Convention​al vs. Organic Study

Many of you saw the article on NPR and other places last week that talked about a new meta-study stating that organic food was not necessarily better for you, or more specifically, more nutritional. Michael Pollan had a great response here.

We could get into the specifics of the study, what exactly is a meta-study, who funded it, the fact that the longest study was only 2 years long, etc., but even if we were to make the premise that organic food is not more nutritional for you, is it still worth buying organic, and especially local organic food?

Studies show organic farming makes our farmers more profitable. For a wholesale farmer that makes 6-8% of the retail value of the crop, every little bit helps. And now if we were to add in local food being direct-marketed, the farmer receives 80-100 % of the retail dollar. And if we want to keep our farmers farming, making the right decisions about your food, we must be willing to pay them well.

Organic farming keeps our farmers and their families healthier. Even if the residue on your food is not dangerous (which the study tried to imply) chemicals come in little jugs, super concentrated. Most of them require farmers to wear a moonsuit to mix and apply. Anything with a label stating “seek a physician immediately if product contacts your skin” frankly scares me. And I know fellow farmers who got so sick from the chemicals they had to quit farming. And think of the farmers’ families?

Organic farming keeps our environment healthier. Think of the dead zones in the Gulf, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Great Lakes. The raping of the soils in America, in that for every bushel of grain produced, a bushel of soil is lost. The ravaging effects that DDT had on the US bird population for several decades. The moonscape created in every farmer’s field after the fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides kill off all life.

What is the true cost of (un)conventional food? And when we sit and start to figure out what the (un)conventional ag system has cost us we realize the looming national debt that it has created. Did you know that the US government has set aside 1 billion dollars to clean up the Chesapeake Bay? And that that money is coming straight from you, the taxpayer? What about the dams in the west to create arable land out of desert; just where do those billions come from? And if we start adding in the staggering human and monetary cost that two wars have cost us so that we can keep a steady supply of cheap oil? This oil is used to make synthetic fertilizers, run massive machinery on farms and keep food trucks racing across the US.

There. Four reasons we need to keep our food system pointed in an organic, local and sustainable direction. I could of come up with a dozen more, talking about carbon sequestration, and the secret life of the soil food web. But here’s a start, which should dash the industry’s hope of wooing you back to buying from them.

Photos from Polyface

Building the corral at Mitchell's so that the cows can be moved to Grey Gables. This is the final loading approach.

Noah raking hay

The truck I was driving holds 20 bales.

This stack will only last the big herd for 20 days

The whole package- Daniel Salatin stacking, Noah salting the hay, Derek Ewer driving truck in the far field, Eric loading bales, and Lavern baling.

180 tons of hay…..
Eggmobiles after the storm, but before the EERT got to them (Eggmobile Emergency Response Team).
During the renovation

After- all done- in 98 degree heat.....

Our job is to make the hens happy……
Unrolling the hay tarp over 210 tons of hay.

What does it take to be a farmer?

What does it take to be a farmer? A couple of us were talking about this the other day. What skills are essential to make it in agricultural production? This week, I kept track of the different jobs and skills that I performed. Farming does not just entail taking care of vegetables or animals but a myriad of other tasks that keep a farm going.

On Monday we were building new shelves for the shop to put tools and supplies on. So we were carpenters for the day on Monday.

On Tuesday morning I worked in the shop, using the acetylene torch to heat and cut metal. In the afternoon I helped Joel on the sawmill, stacking and stickering lumber. So welder and mill worker for the day.

On Wednesday we moved cows from one rental farm to the other. This involved collecting the cows and putting them into the corral. Then we sorted them into mama cows, stockers (the ones we eat), and calves, stuck them into trailers and hauled them. Then I spent the afternoon back in the shop, rewiring an old tablesaw, replacing a frost-free hydrant, and cutting wood for some projects. I ended up being a cowboy, electrician, plumber, and carpenter.

On Thursday morning Joel turned me loose on the sawmill to mill 2x4s for the latest building project on the farm. Not only does running the sawmill involve brute strength to turn the big logs but the finesse to cut the boards at sub-inch accuracy. There is a lot of math involved in trying to maximize the number of boards out of each log. In the afternoon we drove over to a rental farm, loaded up some equipment on the goosenecks, and hauled it back to the home farm. Thursday’s jobs were sawyer and trucker.

Add to that salesman, mechanic, chef, writer…..  and you start to get the picture of what a farmer does. Needless to say, we keep busy.

Cover Crop

Feeding our Soil at KFF

Cover Crop

Rye and Vetch cover crop

Solar lignified carbon sequestration fertilization.


Yes, it’s a mouthful. And yes, it’s what we do here at KFF with our cover crops. Cover crops, which are crops that are grown to feed, protect and cover the soil, play an integral role here in our strategy to bring you the best food possible. Continue reading

Yes, dreams do come true …

Jessica Reihl Photography

Big news in my life!! I applied for, and was accepted for, an 2012 internship at Polyface Farms, down in Virginia. It runs from June 1 through the end of September. I’ll be gone, but the farm will still run just as strong as ever. We’ve been working very hard over the last couple of months to train the crew, buy machinery, and implement procedures to make things easier while I’m gone.

Let me tell you the story …

Many of you remember last fall when Joel Salatin, co-owner, of Polyface farms, visited the farm. He’s a pretty big deal in the sustainable ag community, author of several books, subject of several films (“FRESH”  and “Food, Inc.”), and speaks worldwide on food and agricultural issues. A short video of his farm is here.  He’s been one of my heroes (and inspiration to start farming) ever since I read about him in Smithsonian magazine, back in 2000. His farm down in Virginia raises pastured beef, pigs, turkeys, broilers, layers and rabbits on more than 1,200 acres.

Last August, I applied for an internship at Polyface. I was accepted earlier this spring after a rigorous (tougher than Harvard) acceptance process. I’ll be blogging about the experience at my new blog,

I did this for several reasons.

One of my dreams in life has been to internship there and I realized I’m not getting any younger. As the business grows in the next couple of years it’s not going to get any easier for me to do something like this.

Joel is an incredible innovator, speaker, communicator, and change agent. As one who wishes to change the direction of American agriculture I feel he would have an incredible amount to teach and share.

Polyface is a holistic, very integrated, animal, pasture-based farm. Their marketing channels are different than ours: buying clubs, wholesale, restaurants  and an on-farm store. The past two years or so, we have been looking to integrate much more closely with animals and expand our marketing channels, thus us raising broilers, hens, turkeys and pigs over the last couple of years. There’s nothing better than learning from the best.

Of course, the question everyone’s thinking is: How will the farm run while you’re gone?

We have a great team. I am no longer the only farmer at Kilpatrick Family Farm. I’m completely confident that our amazing team will manage splendidly while I’m gone. My brother Jonathan, has stepped back on board to run the fields, Keith will be making sure our amazing produce gets to market, and the rest of the crew (which we’ve supplemented with a few great hires) will be stepping up to make sure everything else gets done. We’ve got a great crew manning the markets and running the office. I’ve spoken to several grower friends of mine and they have agreed to drop by periodically and glance an experienced eye over things. We’ve invested heavily in some equipment this year to simplify and speed up weed control, harvesting and processing, and spraying. We’ve spent the last 3 months training people, writing things down, and simplifying tasks.

I’ll keep you updated on how the summer goes!!