Tag Archives: farming

Can the Boss Work the Hardest?

I was working with some of our younger crew members weeding swiss chard today. The chard had been planted on plastic, and because of our cold, dry spring had grown slow enough to let a few weeds take hold.Weeding carrots

I quickly moved through 2/3rds of the bed myself, plucking the weeks and dropping them into the path, knowing that the 90 degree day and steady wind would quickly shrivel them up. The crew members slowly moved through the other third, carefully making sure that no weeds were left in the bed.

My wife and I were discussing this at dinner. The crew members were working diligently and trying their hardest but not getting the amount of work done I was. I think there are a couple reasons to explain this:

  • You have probably been farming longer, and weeding more, than they have. Experience counts. You can identify, hopefully, all the weeds, and crops that you have growing on your farm, and therefore can work faster. Your muscle memory is trained, and weeding is probably at this point more like therapy.

  • You have more skin in the game. It’s your farm, you enjoy all the rewards (and disappointments) of farming. To them, it is a job. To you it is your life and, hopefully, passion.

  • As the boss, you usually have other jobs besides the physical, strenuous jobs that your crew does all day. I know when I worked for other farms, I tried to make sure that I paced my exertion so that I was still productive at 5 PM. As a boss now, I can spend up to 2/3rds of my time doing non-strenuous office or sales work. This allows me to sprint when I’m in the field. The crew needs to treat a work day like a marathon.

  • You know exactly what you want. Your crew is constantly evaluating, checking, and waiting for feedback. I knew that the very small weeds would never make it and therefore left them, the crew heard, “get the weeds out,” and therefore were going to make sure all the weeds were out of the field.

What are your thoughts? Other than the obvious, “you just can’t get good help these days,” what do you feel are reasons that crew members sometimes don’t work as efficiently or as quickly as you, the farmer, do?

The Third Plate- what will we be eating in 50 years?

While I’m on the tractor or driving to a market, I frequently listen to books on tape. Audible is one of the best things for farmers, allowing us to get two things done at once. I usually listen to a mix of history, business, and food books.

The Third Plate

The last book I finished was The Third Plate by Dan Barber. I have been privileged to meet him several times while at the Stone Barns Center where one of his Blue Hill restaurants is located. What I didn’t realize is that he was named one of Times 100 most influential people in 2009, or had won several coveted Chef awards.

The Third Plate is a history of agriculture, but told in a fascinating and taste-centric way. It is a culinary smorgasbord, describing various flavors, foods, and chefs. It is a hopeful book, describing the few in this country that are trying to right the culinary wrong that we have perpetuated over the last 200 years in this country. But overall, it is a storybook, bringing you to far off places like the Dehesa of Spain, the grain fields of western NY and Washington state, and many more. There are stories of wheat, tuna, emar, rice and corn and the infamous Foie Gras.

The overall premise of the book is Dan’s wrestling with sourcing ingredients, and how chefs have inadvertently singlehandedly caused the exploitation of resources. Demands for a consistent wheat has caused the proliferation of just two varieties, when there are over forty thousand available, with specific varieties having overtones of chocolate and other fascinating flavor profiles. The demand for greater and greater yields has diluted the flavor that was once known by our ancestors. Tuna used to be a canner fish, and now has been fished almost to extinction because chefs popularized it.

Back in the day, oatmeal, porridge, and corn meal mush were staples. One of the reasons for the lack of interest in these inexpensive, nutritious foods is because all the flavor has been bred out of the modern varieties. Dan talks about using ancient corn for polenta, and how the flavor and smell changed his opinion of this dish.

This book is definitely worth the read. It is a great education about food, food culture, and how some of the best chefs in the world are wrestling to affect change in an industry which relies primarily on a refrigerated tractor trailer backing up to their door twice a day.

Pennsylvania Conference Recap

I was recently in PA for an all day conference on winter growing, season extension, wholesale, and food safety. I presented three times and we also heard from Cathie, a local grower and a Bill, representative from Wegmans supermarket who was talking about the great oportunities for growers of all sizes to sell to the wegmans family of stores.

My first talk was a standard winter growing and greens production.

Second talk was on Field systems and season extension. I have fun doing this talk as I get to discuss equipment, and show beautiful pictures of vegetables.

The last talk for the day was on Farm Planning, Wholesale markets, Food safety, and washing and packing. This was a lot of new material for me, and is the talk which took the most work. It went very well though.

There was signifigant interest in our annual bed strawberry system. Here’s the link to the slideshow that I have done on this.

Another question was the source of our supplies. Here’s the link to our resources page.

http://michael-kilpatrick.com/resources/

A grower also had a question on the bags that we use for our wholesale lettuce mix. They are from Uline, link here.

If you are a grower near a Wegmans, and they have stores in Western NY, PA, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and the Carolinas, you should look into sales oportunites through them. They are a very farm friendly company, and have employees whose sole job is to travel seek out new farms to sell to them. Definately worth a call or email.

Many thanks to Beth at the Blair Conservation District for organizing this event!

 

 

Speaking Engagement: Maximizing Profits through Year-round Wholesale Production

_MG_74701I will be speaking in East Freedom, PA on April 9th. The event is sponsored by several Pennsylvanian agricultural organizations and is FREE!  It will be a full day event with me covering several topics.

  • Winter vegetable production- I will cover what we have learned in 10 years of winter production. From varieties, to tunnel management, to seeding dates, you will leave this workshop knowing how to grow during the winter months.
  • Season Extension- In this workshop, I will cover how we s-t-r-e-t-c-h the season to provide greater product diversity in the spring and fall, as well as cool season crops during the mid-summer heat like spinach and lettuce. The emphasis will be on larger-scale wholesale quantities. Yes you can have spinach from April to December from the field!
  • Wholesale marketing and food safety- In the last couple years our farm has scaled up, received certified organic status, and focused heavily on food safety so that we could sell to larger, wholesale buyers. We’ll talk about our journey and demystify wholesale markets, GAPS, and food safety!

This is my main speaking engagement of the spring, don’t miss it! Attached is a flyer of the event. April9_Flyer

IMG_7013

Greenhouse Radiant Heat at Fox Creek Farm

Raymond Luhrman owns Fox Creek Farm CSA with his wife, Sara. The 350 member CSA has pick-up sites throughout the Capital District. For more information about the farm, visit their website, www.foxcreekfarmcsa.com. He recently was having problems installing his greenhouse heating system and shared the feedback he received as well as pictures and diagrams.

From Raymond:

Two weeks ago I posted a question regarding the suitable materials for greenhouse radiant heat. I experienced lots of little leaks at couplers with 200PSI black poly. PEX would not work well because of the lack of UV resistance. Thank you for everyone sympathizing with hunting for leaks – and thanks for all the suggestions. I put quite some more time in the house, but right now it is not leaking, and it’s germinating the first plants.

 

In this post:

 

1. The replies I received (in general, folks like Trueleaf products form California for bench heat, and don’t use PVC adapters when using black poly).

2. What I ended up doing to resolve the problem

3. Sketches of the plumbing plan, plumbing wiring plan, and the other climate control (overhead heat, venting) for your reference.

 

 

1.      Replies:

 

I feel your pain.  We used pex for a heated table, keep the pex covered as much as possible and no issues after 3 years.  Anyway, that is not your situation.

 

At the risk of being simplistic, I wonder if you have seated the poly hose well enough onto the pvc fittings.  Try to get as many barbs into the hose as possible.  It is extra stiff this time of year, and a heat gun (like for stripping paint) can warm up the tube to a more flexible state, then cram the sombitch home.  Use a couple of radiator clamps on each junction.

 

Perhaps you have done this already, just my idea for a first step.

 

Next thing, perhaps the pvc barbs have cracked?  Are they tensioned or stressed?

 

Is your antifreeze mix right?  It is bloody cold.

 

I hate chasing leaks.

Raymond  the 200PSI 3/4 could be your problem.  While heating the pipe to install barbed fittings, the torch heat weakens the sidewalls of the pipe and channels are created when you install the barbed fitting.  Because it is 200 psi pipe the wall thickness is so great that regular worm clamps do not apply enough force to close the now grooved pipe fully around the fitting.  There are 2 solutions.  One  change to regular ASTM 3408 or 3608 pipe being in the 100 to 125 psi range.  This pipe with thinner side walls will close better with clamps.  Or the second use the pipe you have, cut or take out all the fittings you put in and reinstall them using LIQUID TEFLON. This product is the same as teflon tape but goes on as a paste and will fill the grooves you created inserting barbed fittings into the thicker walled pipe.   I sell this product in pint containers for $24, however if you need to find it locally the hardware store might have it, or home depot.  This stuff is like never seize, one can lasts a long time and it is good to use on all barbed and threaded fittings.    Hope this helps.

I’d avoid using poly barbs – the brass ones allow you to heat the fitting and and crimp the water line much more securely

 

Raymond, The problem with black poly is that it expands and contracts with temperature changes. The same with poly fittings. The best way to get a seal using poly pipe is to use brass fittings.  There is UV protected PEX that works but you must use the proper fittings. As long as you have an expansion tank with pressure safety valve(so you don’t get too high water pressure and blow everything apart) and water supply(either live water or a storage tank) a few drips are not a big issue.  I personally use all sweated copper for my germination house boiler system, with valves to drain it at the end of the season. ed.

We use Truleaf  products for bench heating,  They are in california.  Their bench heating kits work great.  We have had them for over 10 years.

 

The one thing that jumps out at me is the use of pvc barbs. If you use stainless barbs you can really clamp down on the black poly. Also, heat the poly as little as possible to start with a tighter fit. Good Luck.

Is that black poly good for hot water?  Maybe things are expanding with the heat.  I’ve usually used CPVC, which is a heat-rated version of PVC, or Pex, which I think you can get in a UV-rated version.  The Pex is so much easier to deal with than anything rigid.

 

its all sometimes very frustrating! try double hose clamping, using a good nut driver to really tighten.  many of those fittings are ever so slightly not the right dimension.  brass fittings sometimes the same. sometimes better.  best advice is to slightly warm the pipe end with a little butane/propane hand torch(don’t over do, just a quick couple of seconds, always moving). immediately put the fitting in and tighten.  the softened plastic allows you to really tighten more around the barbs. also, the lower psi piping is easier to work with….  ie 100psi, less black plastic that you are trying to compress.

 

 

Raymond, for the past five years we have used an excellent product from True Leaf Technologies in California. They sell their UV-protected tubes in 1000’ spools from which you can cut your own lengths. They  make an L-shaped barbed start that you insert into holes drilled into CPC or standard PVC pipe. Use the smallest drill bit and it will be leak-free. Very easy to order online.

 

2.    What I ended up doing:

 

I replumbed the house using the WIRSBO system PEX. ½ inch PEX fits nicely in ¾ inch 200 PSI black poly (it would also have fitted in lower grade black poly), taking care of the UV issue. Using a limited amount of black electrical tape to shield PEX that is not covered by black poly or insulation materials. Using plastic T-s, elbows and ¾ to ½ inch reducers. 30% glycol in the system for freeze protection. I considered getting the better metal adapters for the black poly, but those things are expensive! As I was initially planning on using PEX (but the guys at the plumbing supply place advised against it for reasons of UV exposure), I already mailordered quite some PEX fittings anyways, so that was sitting in a box while I was setting myself up for that black poly disaster.

The PEX does not leak, the 90 degree bent supports make for a very nice flow through the pipes, and everything is working fabulously.

 

3. Technical plans – someone asked to share the plans – they are attached greenhouse plumbing and wiring. They work for us – you may want to consult with a plumber and/or electrician if you are not confident with these kind of projects”

Raymond was also kind enough to share some pictures

Greenhouse bench layout

Greenhouse bench layout

The Radiant heat setup- Note on-demand flash water heater.

The Radiant heat setup- Note on-demand flash water heater.

The Germination chamber

The Germination chamber

Next week I’ll write about the advantages of radiant heat in benches for transplant houses.

 

Moncton, NB Winter Growing Conference

I was super lucky to be asked to present at a 2 day winter growing conference in Moncton, New Brunswick earlier this week. Just where is Moncton?

One thing that was notable about the trip was the amount of snow they get. Even though they are in a similar growing zone (4b), they had between 4-5 ft of snow on the ground when I got there.

They asked me to do 3 talks, the first one on Greenhouse structures, prep, and soils. One interesting thing I learned is while we orient our houses for maximum sun exposure (east-west), they also have to worry about heading the houses into prevailing wind so that the wind blows the snow off the houses.

ACORN Tunnels

The second talk I gave was on succesion planting and profitability. Although we have run numbers on what crops make us per acre(return per year((RPY)), we don’t have numbers on return per week(RPW) of growing season. This is much more important when you are dealing with tunnels and every day needs to be making you money. Adam Montri of MSU did a talk on this this winter and I’m including the slides here as a resource.

ACORN succession planting

Economics of High Tunnel Production Adam Montri

The last talk I did, which was preceded by a delicious, locally sourced dinner, was on how we do season extension on the farm. This talk was open to those in the community and I tried to share how many of the principles could be done on a smaller, even garden scale.

ACORN SEASON EXTENSION

Throughout the day between sessions, there was great conversation had by all. I picked up some tips and tricks that other growers are using and can’t wait to impliment them this year on the farm.

“There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbors. This is robbery. The second by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as a reward for his innocent life and his virtuous industry.”

 

Ben Franklin

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, Michael-kilpatrick.com.

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!!