Farmer Aimee's third and final post on CDFA's Tales from the Field blog, originally posted November 30, 2015, is here: http://blogs.cdfa.ca.gov/TalesFromTheField/?p=532.
Farmer Aimee's second post on CDFA's Tales from the Field blog, originally posted September 21, 2015.
Farmer Aimee's first post on CDFA's Tales from the Field blog, originally posted September 10, 2015.
At this week's West Sacramento Farmers' Market, I did a special event aimed at getting more people interested in farming. There were basil seedlings for potting up, flyers on becoming a farmer, and my favorite, a Farmer-Aimee-themed coloring booklet for kids that describes a few aspects of being a fruit and vegetable farmer. Thanks to my friend Alison who put up with my last-minute request for custom artwork!
I'll write more about the event later, but several folks have expressed interest in the materials I handed out, so I am posting here:
If you came to the event, what did you think? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts, and thanks for coming!
Last Saturday's open house at the farm was a definite success. I was joined by neighbors, family, old friends, teammates, and farmers' market customers for a day of celebrating my new farm.
By far, the most popular activity of the day was rock painting. While prepping my beds this season, I unearthed a multitude of objects, including river rocks, concrete, asphalt, nails, pipes, and marbles. The rocks were piling up until it occurred to me to use them for an art project. Who knew that some washable paint, a few brushes, and rocks could provide hours of entertainment, plus art to beautify my farm?
The second-most popular activity of the day was making salad dressing. Dawnie, my neighbor farmer, was amazing in guiding the kids to make their own salad dressing. Using her Food Literacy Center background and skills, she showed the kids how to follow a recipe, measure ingredients, and, their favorite part, shake the ranch dressing until it was ready to top my salad greens. Having made the dressing themselves, and because it was ranch, the kids actually ate the salad! And, since the open house, 2 of the kids told me that they made the salad dressing at home. It warms my heart to see kids so excited about cooking and eating veggies! My mom noticed during the open house that an ice cream truck drove by, music playing, and not one of the many kids at the open house asked for or ran to buy an ice cream. How cool is that?! I mean, who could want ice cream when you have ranch dressing on super fresh, super local lettuce mix?
We also planted sunflowers at the open house, but I think that most kids were too excited about painting rocks to be interested in planting seeds. There were a few takers, but I'll have to use the Earthway seeder later this week to plant the rest of the 200 or so feet of the farm border that will become a living fence once the seeds sprout and the sunflowers grow about 4 feet tall.
Besides seeing kids having such a great time on the farm and eating veggies, I really enjoyed talking with all the adults who visited the open house, from old friends to new neighbors. I feel so supported in my efforts to start this farm, and can't wait for the season ahead! That support includes all the volunteers who helped make the open house possible. Thank you SO MUCH to Mom, Dad, Alison, Janice, Niel, Claire, and Dawnie. You are awesome.
I can't say I wasn't warned. A pessimist friend of mine has been worried from the beginning of my fenceless urban farming adventure that vandalism was going to be a problem. But I'm an optimist, so I planted anyway, and kept my fingers crossed that all the time I put into public relations every day on the farm would prevent people from damaging my crops. I was wrong.
Several volunteers and myself worked hard over the last week to get the farm ready for planting. We spread compost, forked, tilled, and shaped beds until our backs ached and our hands went numb from carpal tunnel syndrome. Yesterday, all that worked paid off and we planted seeds: 8 beds of chard, kale, onion, beet, carrot, lettuce mix, and peas. I left the farm last night exhausted but pleased. We were growing!
This morning, I arrived at the farm to shape more beds and plant potatoes, only to discover that the farm had an unwelcome visitor overnight. Despite wide, 18-inch paths between beds (luxurious compared to the 12-inch paths I used on my last farm!), somebody had decided to walk right through several of the freshly seeded beds, leaving giant, deep footprints. I'm calling the perpetrator Bigfoot.
In the big scheme of things, Bigfoot's trespassing is not a big deal. It could have been much worse; somebody could have broken into the shed and stolen my tools, or could have trampled much more of the newly planted beds. A few footprints is not the crime of the century. I expect that none of the seeds under each footprint will grow because they are now too deep and the surrounding soil too compacted, so the damage is more than cosmetic, but still not major. Yet, this still feels like a punch in the gut. It's not that hard to walk on the path or to go around the farm entirely. There are several signs up politely asking people to stay on the sidewalk and off the soil. Instead, Bigfoot couldn't be bothered to detour 5 feet and he walked right through the beds. Really? Why? It feels like Bigfoot is flipping me off, saying, "F**k you! I don't give a s**t about your stupid farm!"
The irony is that almost everybody I've talked to in the neighborhood supports the farm. Several stop by daily to visit. On Saturday, somebody I hadn't met walked up to me, said "This is a good thing you are doing here," and handed me a bottle of cold water. Yesterday, a mom and her teenage daughter pulled up, got out of their minivan, and offered to help. They forked beds for an hour. Another neighbor has volunteered 3 times in the last 5 days, for several hours at a time. Just as I had hoped, we are building a community around this farm. Unfortunately, it just takes one person to ruin it for everybody else. Or in this case, one "large, hairy, bidpedal humanoid," as Wikipedia describes the "real" Bigfoot.
I remain an optimist, and will continue trying to grow food on this farm. A few footprints isn't going to stop me. But it has made me stop and think: maybe a fence around the property is a worthwhile investment. The community-builder in me doesn't really want a fence, because I want the neighbors to see this farm as partly theirs. But the practical side of me realizes that a farm with no vegetables won't build much community, either! The school across the street has a 4-foot tall chainlink fence around its parking lot that I could emulate. At 4-feet tall, it doesn't dominate the landscape, but still sends a clear message of "Go around!." I estimate that such a fence around my farm would cost about $1200, plus labor to install. Another option I'm considering is a flower "fence," such as a single line of tall sunflowers around the farm's perimeter. It would be cheaper than a metal fence, but probably less effective, too.
What are your thoughts about putting up a fence? Leave me a comment.
In the meantime, I'll be on the lookout for Bigfoot. Based on the footprint size (~12 inches), I estimate Bigfoot is 6'0"- 6'4" tall.
Based on the long stride length, I think Bigfoot is a runner, rather than a walker. More of a bounder, really. The Easter Bunny, maybe, looking for a carrot? Or maybe not a vandal after all, but somebody being chased by an assailant? Perhaps someone who couldn't see where he was going at night (despite the streetlight just a few feet away) and accidentally stumbled across my farm? I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Hey, I told you I was an optimist.
Last week was my first real week of farming on my own. The good news is that I accomplished everything I wanted to. The bad news is that it took twice as long as I expected and was super stressful. Call it what you want--Murphy's Law, a comedy of errors, a sh*tshow--one thing is for certain: nothing came easily. Tuesday was the first, and worst, of it. The goal: mow the cover crop. Sounds simple enough. Of course, though, the devil is in the details. In order to mow the cover crop, I first had to borrow a trailer, load the tractor-mounted mower into the trailer, transport the mower to my farm, and get the mower off the trailer. Borrowing the trailer was easy, thank goodness. Driving to West Sacramento with the trailer, also easy. Parking the trailer? Not so easy. I knew from watching people at the boat dock at the lake for years that backing up with a trailer could get ugly, but I had never experienced the fun firsthand until Tuesday morning. Armed with only very limited knowledge of how to back up a trailer, namely, "Everything is backwards!", I set out on adventure #1. The farm where I picked up the tractor and mower is on a busy street that doesn't allow on-street parking, so I tried to back into the farm's driveway. Everything was indeed backwards (as in steer left to make the trailer go right), but my brain and body got so confused trying to do the opposite of what my eyes were telling them to do. After nearly jackknifing, I gave up and parked around the corner. Murphy 1, Aimee 0.
I decided that I would get the tractor started first, then just run the tractor across the street to load it onto the trailer. The tractor, a BCS Professional Series 853, was similar to a walk-behind tractor I had used before, but different enough to mess me up. Fancier than what I am used to, this new tractor has wheel brakes to aid turning, but just like backing up a trailer, everything is backwards. Squeezing the right handle turns the machine to the left, and squeezing the left handle makes it turn left. I understood this in theory, but, just as with the trailer, had a hard time transitioning from theory to reality. I managed to get the tractor down the driveway, across the sidewalk, and into the street, but couldn't get the tractor wheels lined up with the ramp onto the trailer. It must have been quite a sight, me wrestling a tractor in the middle of the street in the middle of West Sacramento, but I tried not to think about it. Instead, I backed the tractor out of the street, then called and texted for help. But help didn't come. I was on my own. Murphy 2, Aimee 0.
Summoning up my courage, I went back to the trailer. Taking a chance that I might never get out, I pulled straight into the farm's driveway and parked. I turned the fancy steering system on the tractor off. I would steer manually. Holding my breath, I manhandled the tractor, forcing it to turn right, drove it up the ramp, and got the beast onto the trailer. Phew. Murphy 2, Aimee 1!
Of course, I still had to back the trailer out of the driveway and onto the main street. "You can do this," I said, psyching myself up. What I really meant was, "You don't have a choice. You have to do this. There's nobody else to rescue you." But I pretended not to hear myself think this. I googled "backing up a trailer" and got a quick tutorial. According to the site I looked at, the secret was to put my hand on the bottom of the steering wheel and let the bottom of the steering wheel drive the trailer. I was skeptical, but what did I have to lose? Heart pounding, I backed the trailer toward the street, turning the bottom of the wheel to the right to make the trailer go right. The trailer did go right, but it kept going right! I tried to the straighten the wheel, but I got everything turned around in my head again, and made the trailer go even further to the right. I pulled forward and tried again. This time, I managed to get enough of the trailer into the street that I could pull forward and drive away! Hooray! Murphy 2, Aimee 2.
The one-mile drive to my farm was relatively uneventful, until I had to park. My farm is across the street from a school, and by this time, school was almost out and my usual parking spots were taken up by parents waiting to pick up their children. The only spot left on my side of the street that was big enough for my truck and trailer required me to back into it, since I had overshot. I only needed to back up in a straight line for 5 feet or so. How hard could that be? Quite hard, it turns out! Once again, my trailer backing-up skills failed me, and I was forced to abandon the effort after several ill-fated attempts that ended with the trailer halfway up the curb. Aaarrrggghhh! Murphy 3, Aimee 2.
There was plenty of the parking on the other side of the street, but I didn't dare attempt a U-turn because my truck-trailer unit was too long and I would end up in, god forbid, a 3-point Y that I might never escape from. Instead of a U-turn, I made a right and 3 lefts, driving about a mile to go 30 feet! It wasn't pretty, but it worked. I finally parked in front of my farm and got the tractor off. After hours of struggling, I was finally going to mow the cover crop! Murphy 3, Aimee 3.
Excited to begin, I fired up the mower's engine and pulled the PTO level to engage the flail mower. Instead of nice mowing sounds, I was greeted with a horrible scraping, then silence. The engine died. I tried the sequence again, and got the same result. No mowing. I called for help. This time, help answered, in the form of the mechanic at the tractor shop. I actually had 2 problems, one with the clutch, which would be a simple fix, and another with the mower, which could be more complicated. Not feeling up for taking apart a flail mower, I volunteered to tow the tractor to the shop. Murphy 4, Aimee 3.
Pulling up to the shop, I prayed that I could park without having to back into a space. My prayers were answered, saving me much embarrassment. Joe the mechanic adjusted the clutch, but was puzzled by my mower problems. When he engaged the PTO to fire up the mower, it hummed. Well, maybe it had just been the clutch after all, we figured, and I reloaded the tractor and headed back to the farm. Daylight was fading, but I was determined to mow something that day. When I got back to the farm, the mower got stuck on the ramp edge, but a strong passerby helped me wrestle the mower free. I fired up the tractor and held my breath. I increased the throttle setting, and engaged the PTO. Once again, I got that horrible metal-on-metal scraping sound, but the engine didn't die. I was mowing! I mowed until dark, cutting down about half the field, then returned the mower and tractor back to their storage shed at another farm. Murphy 4, Aimee 4.
Once home, I got some trailer driving tips from family members and read up on flail mowers on the internet. It turned out that the awful scraping sound was operator error, not a machine problem. You have to hold in the clutch when you fire up the mower. The next day, I finished the mowing without a hitch, and headed back to the storage area to exchange the mower implement for the tiller implement. I had been promised that converting the tractor from mower to tiller would be quick and easy, and despite the previous day's experiences, somehow believed this. Big mistake. Once again, nothing went right. The mower came off easily enough, and the tiller slid on easily enough, but it wouldn't lock into place. I watched a YouTube video, which suggested wiggling the tractor and tiller until the locking pin clicked into place. I wiggled and wiggled, but nothing happened. Investigating more closely, I discovered that the hole the pin needed to slide into was on the bottom, not on the top, where it should have been. The part had been installed upside down by the mechanic. No problem, we'll just use the tools that came with the part. Great, except that the supplied tools didn't fit the nut that needed to come off. Sara, who was helping me with the tractor conversion, drove to the nearby construction school with the tiller, where they used the world's largest allen wrench to remove the nut and put the part on correctly. We tried again to mount the tiller on the tractor, and this time were met with success. Hooray! Unfortunately, the 2-hour delay meant that I ran out of daylight while tilling, forcing me to borrow truck and trailer for a third day. The next day, the tilling itself went smoothly, and I finished by noon. I was so happy to return the truck and trailer to their owner and drive my little car home for the night. In the end, I stopped keeping score, but I think Murphy and I tied. I am sure we will spar again many times this season.