We do not have organic certification. As you may have heard, it can be pretty expensive and it requires a lot of paperwork, which means that for many small farms, like us, the barrier to entry is too high, especially as we are just getting started.
The good news is, that although we do not have certification we are passionate about organic growing methods, and we put a lot of effort into growing our products in a responsible way.
When you think about it, the organic certification is a way for consumers to be reassured about the methods used to grow the product they are buying. A really neat thing about buying locally is that you get to know your farmers. Knowing your farmers is a very great way of getting reassurance of the farming methods used.
We would love for you to know about our growing methods. We care a lot, and we are happy that you do too.
We should all care about how our food is grown, it is important for us and for the planet.
Below, we'd like to tell you what we mean when we say that our products are responsibly grown. First, we have a shorter, headlines version, outlining the methods we use. Then, if you are curious, you can dive in to read longer descriptions of those methods and how we implement them.
But most importantly, if you have any questions or comments about our growing methods, please contact us, so we can talk about it.
PLEASE NOTE! We are still working on writing descriptions for some of the methods listed above. If you are interested, please check back. In the meantime, you are more than welcome to contact us if you have any questions or comments.
You are what your food ate. Plants get their "food" from soil, sun, and water. So good food really starts with good soil.
As farmers, a big part of our work is caring for our soil, building it to be the best it can be.
At Friends and Family Farm we are very lucky to be starting out with some great soil. The land we are growing on has been a non-commercial perennial hayfield for the last thirty years, at least. This is great news since it means that the soil has been well maintained, using good practices.
The hayfield has not been tilled for at least 30 years, so everything is where it is supposed to be and the soil has been minimally disturbed. Soil is layered, and each layer plays a specific role and hosts different soil-dwelling critters. When soil is tilled mechanically, it is turned upside down and brings things out of order.
For the last 30 years, the grass growing in the field has been cut and bailed for hay and then been allowed to regrow. It has mostly been doing its own thing, with very little human intervention.
No chemical spraying
The grass growing in the hayfield has been cut and allowed to regrow each year. No chemicals have been (ab)used to coax more production out of the field for at least 30 years. This is good to know since many chemicals can potentially store in the ground for years and years.
Building fertility with biomass
Believe it or not, chemicals are not the only way to build fertility (and it is certainly not the best - in our opinion). Nature is very good at doing that itself. By letting the grass grow and die in natural cycles, biomass has been left in the field over time. Biomass, in this case, is just a fancy way to say dead plant parts, such as stalks and roots. This biomass has made great feasts for worms, bacteria, and other critters living in the soil, which have in turn left behind a lot of.... ahem... poop. Poop is gold when it comes to fertility. (When it comes to dinner-party talks, farmers like to use fancy words such as castings and manure, but really, we are talking poop. Using those fancy words is probably why we still get invited to dinner parties).
The hayfield gives us an excellent starting point, and we are very serious about the responsibility of keeping the soil in great condition, as we start growing a diverse range of crops on the land. These are the practices and methods we are using to take care of our soil and produce great food.
Still not tilling
As described above, mechanical tilling can be pretty harmful to the soil. That is why we are focusing on working and preparing our soil without using tractors or other mechanical tillers. That being said, to bring the land from hayfield to a market garden we did break ground by tilling with a tractor, to create our four main blocks for growing crops. This gave us the possibility to break up the root net of the hay crop, and get the soil ready for planting. We do not plan on tilling those areas again.
Using hand tools
With that initial tilling behind us, we can now use gentler methods to prepare the soil, which is necessary between various crops. We do this using hand tools such as rakes and a nifty, although heavy, tool called a broad fork. These cause much less disturbance to the soil, as they work more shallowly, and allow us to avoid turning over the soil.
We also use hand tools when weeding, which allow us to disturb the weeds in the top layer of the soil, without causing too much turmoil.
Another benefit of avoiding the tractor is less fuel consumption. No fossil fuels went into the hard work of digging out the 4" to 24" tall raised beds, which make up two of our growing blocks. Raised beds warm up quicker in the springtime and retain their head longer in the winter, meaning we hope to offer more products for a longer season.
Farm animals at work
We also harness the power of our farm animals, who are natural soil builders and maintainers.
Our Kune-Kune pigs are excellent at tilling, which is useful when we need to terminate our cover crops. Compared to tractors, pigs are pretty lightweight, which means that they do not compact the soil as much, as they move around and do their tilling. They are also more unpredictable than tractors, which is great because they do not repeat their work the same way each time. Tractors are generally set to a specific depth when tilling, which over time can cause hardpan - a hard crust at the bottom of the tillers' reach. The unsystematic nature of the pigs' work means we avoid any hardpan. (That unpredictability of the pigs is less ideal when they decide that the grass is greener on the other side, and plan a break-out).
Our chicken flock also works hard for the benefit of the soil. Scratching and pecking in the surface of the soil, they can even out the soil surface, spreading any manure around and eating weed-seeds, which we highly appreciate. They also eat a lot of pests around the farm.
Another amazing benefit of our farm animals is that they help us tremendously with compost production. Not only do they produce a lot of great input for our compost (oh no, it's poop talk again!), but they all do it in varied ways.
Our goats like to poop here, there, and everywhere. They do a great job of spreading their pellets over larger areas, essentially spreading fertility wherever they go.
Our pigs are tidier and collectively decide on a bathroom corner (we have yet to witness the meeting where the spot gets decided). This gives us easy access to collect the poop, and bring it to our compost piles, where it is mixed with plant material. With some watering and some turning, heat will build up, and we get great compost to use in the garden.
Lastly, our chickens. Not only do they give droppings (they, like the goats, will spread it where they go). They also put in many hours working as compost managers for us. We bring a wide array of materials from the garden to them, and they go to work making compost. Scratching and pecking they eat what they want from the pile. While doing so, they also break what they don't eat into increasingly smaller bits, and stir it around. Our job is easy then - we routinely turn the pile, much to the chickens' delight, as it unearths an abundance of worms - a choice snack. Once things are nice and composted, we can scoop it all up, and use it to bring additional fertility to the garden.
We are working on writing descriptions for the rest of our current methods, they will be online soon.
We will keep evolving as farmers, and we will keep trying to improve. We will soon be describing some of the areas we are planning to work on in the future.