On The Farm

Weekly Update: May 1st, 2017

May 1st, 2017 Weekly Update

Outreach & Education Update

We’re wrapping up projects with Ms. Frazier’s Earth Science classes at Legacy Charter School. Scholars have spent the semester comparing how veggies and oats grow in different soils, including biochar, which is charcoal made from heating biomass. We’re excited to read through their findings and learn how biochar impacts soil health. Farmer Jason also attended the City View Coalition meeting. To learn more about the Coalition and its aims, check out this fantastic article.


Our seedlings have all been transplanted! For reference, a job like this took about 108 hours split between three or four workers. We timed our seedling deliveries for two separate weeks in order to keep our work load manageable and to have a bit of succession so that all of the lettuce isn’t ready to be harvested at the same time. We suspect that we’ll need to separate our succession by more than one week in the future to achieve a more manageable harvest schedule. Also, since we ordered three different varieties of lettuce, we may discover that some varieties have different maturity rates. We’re keeping a production log to track planting, timing, order size, and labor. When it’s time to harvest, our log will help us determine a fair price for our produce. Jason developed the production log based on Curtis Stone’s and Richard Wiswall’s production planning.


GAP certification

In order to sustain our operation, we hope to sell some of our produce to Legacy Charter School. In order to do this, we need to focus heavily on food safety certification and develop a system to track and recall produce. We’re planning to pursue the USDA Harmonized GAP Certification with the help of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA). We’ve filled out an Application for Assistance, which outlines where we’re at and where we hope to go. CFSA will first help us out with food safety and GAP certification, and then move into business development.

Stephen Nix, CFSA’s South Carolina Food Systems Coordinator, has shared three very useful resources on post-harvest design that we’re studying at the moment: Building a Low-Cost Cooler and PackshedTwo Vegetable Wash Station Designs, and Building the Leopold Center GAP-Certifiable Vegetable Wash Station: Notes and Modifications

Cooler Upfit

The students of Goodwill’s YouthBuild program have completed our walk-in coolers and delivered them to our post-harvest processing space yesterday! The partnership won’t end here though – we’ve got plenty of other ideas in mind! Our next project will likely be a farm stand. Ratenski Services helped us move our greenhouse, as well as the walk-in coolers. The coolers are plugged in and operating while we test out CoolBots and AC units.


We’ve continued to observe and adjust the farm’s irrigation settings. Since we don’t live on the farm site, we drop by at least once a day to check on everything. We try to stop by between 2 and 4pm since it tends to be the hottest time of the day and thus, the most stressful for our young lettuce seedlings.



So far the fencing is doing its job! Our seedlings have not been impacted, but we’ve noticed that something likes to burrow in our leaf mulch. Leaves are often moved around and we’ve found a few burrows too. Our neighbor, Ms. Tarrant, says she often sees squirrels near the fence, so they may be the culprits.


Business & Marketing Update

GREAT NEWS! We’ve been awarded a $1,000 grant from the SC Exotic Pest Plant Council. We plan to use the funds to control and/or remove the site’s callery pears, mimosas, honeysuckle, and kudzu.

This week, our primary focus is on post-harvest operations. We’ll continue searching for and pricing the following equipment: a durable spring scale, plumbing supplies, shelving for supplies and coolers, hose fittings, hand sprayers, sanitizer, brooms and squeegees, buckets for harvesting, and a big dunk tub.
We’re also working to set up a PayPal account that’s ready to invoice our sales!


Next week

Celebrate the end of our biochar projects with a tour of the farm; continue to monitor seedlings and adjust irrigation setting; acquire more post-harvest equipment; organize post-harvest processing; continue connecting with CFSA on GAP certification
On The Farm

Weekly Update: April 24th, 2017

GAP Certification

We have stayed in touch with Stephen Nix and Patricia Tripp of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) about Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Certification. Mr. Bowen of Legacy Charter School has helped us transition into our mini-post harvesting processing space, which is fantastic news for the farm and for our future GAP audit. Look out for our post-harvesting plan in the coming weeks, including a layout for our coolers, sinks, and storage. We’re also working to devise a Food Safety Manual. CFSA will help us make good bold moves toward food safety certification.

Cooler Upfit

This week we’ll continue to work with Mr. Cheek and the students of Goodwill’s YouthBuild program, who will help upfit our coolers. Our goal is to redesign our coolers with food safety in mind. That means easy-to-clean, smooth surfaces with no gaps for potential contamination. If we are able to sanitize the inside surfaces of our coolers, then we are more likely to be food safety compliant. After we install vinyl surfaces, we’ll install and test the CoolBot, a controller that’s helped us make an affordable walk-in cooler. Check out Curtis Stone’s video on walk-in coolers to learn more about CoolBot technology and farming on a budget!


Up and running! We tested the rain delay feature this week. Because we’ve had so much rainfall and our soil is so absorbent, we’ve decided to reduce irrigation for the time being. We found many springtails, which are insects often found in damp soil, hopping everywhere. We’ll let mother nature continue to water our seedlings in the meantime.


This may be our biggest weak spot at the moment. We’ve seen groundhogs and rabbits in our neighborhood almost every day, so we’ve designed and installed a light weight, step-in fence that extends about 1ft underground. We didn’t have the resources to build this 6ft design, so we stuck to a 3ft design for the time being. While there are mixed reviews on its effectiveness, we’ve used chicken wire. We’re prepared to learn a few lessons here and will keep you updated!

Seedlings & Cover Crops

We planted 50% of our seedlings last week, which are from Banner Greenhouses. This week, Farmer Jason will pick up the remaining order. With help (and the weather’s cooperation), we’ll complete transplanting on Tuesday. We’ve also planted an interesting mix of summer cover crops and compost crops! These will help protect the soil from erosion and improve the soil’s nutrient levels by adding organic matter. We’ve chosen grains, legumes, and vining squashes. You can learn more about cover crops from Clemson Extension here.

Business & Finance

Farmer Jason is documenting crop inputs using a combination of enterprise-type budgets he’s studied from other farmers and organizations – primarily from Curtis Stone (The Urban Farmer), Richard Wiswall (The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook), and Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (Fearless Farm Finances). Along with some of our own thinking and spreadsheet skills, we should be able to identify the financial bottlenecks in our processes. We’ll share what we learn!

This Week’s To-Do List

Transplant remaining seedlings; watch for sprouting cover crops; start moving supplies to our post-harvest processing space (which we like to call the blue building); organize and clean blue building; create food safety manual outlines; continue consulting with CFSA for GAP guidance; chop invasive plants on the farm’s perimeter; meet with Ms. Frazier’s scholars about analyzing data, making conclusions, and finalizing the reports for our biochar projects.

Food Safety On The Farm Red Tape

Filling in the GAPs

Business in motion, we turned to the company that had agreed to purchase our produce. Chartwells, Legacy Charter School’s dining services provider, promotes locally grown produce and supports local farms like Woodside City Farm. There was only one thing standing between us and our first major buyer – GAP Certification.

GAP, which stands for Good Agricultural Practices, are the basic environmental and operational conditions, as well as the growing and harvesting practices needed to safely produce fruits and vegetables. Simply put, it’s a voluntary audit program focused on food safety. Although it’s market-driven, meaning a buyer makes the choice of whether or not they require it, meeting GAP standards will also help us meet produce safety rules under the Foods Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

GAP Principles

There are four principles of GAP that guide the point system:

  1. Prevention of microbial contamination
  2. Implementation of a Food Safety Program
    1. Follow all applicable laws
    2. Traceability, record keeping & documentation
  3. Four W’s + Surfaces
    1. Water, waste, workers & wildlife
    2. Surfaces – hands, containers, harvesting tools, etc.
  4. Accountability

As we read through the audit’s sections and point system, uncertainty began to set in. Not only would we need to design a food safety plan from scratch, but we would also need to consider food safety in terms of workers’ health and hygiene, our harvesting containers and equipment, bathroom facilities, and so much more. While many of the guidelines are common-sense farm practices, we were still intimidated to say the least.

*Ding*! One new email from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA). Upcoming event: GAP Workshop at Greenbrier Farms. Timing really is everything.

High tunnel at Greenbrier Farms. Photo courtesy of CFSA.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with CFSA, they are the oldest and largest sustainable agriculture organization in the Southeast. Their mission is to help people in the Carolinas grow and eat local, organic food by advocating for fair farm and food policies, building the systems that organic family farms need to thrive, and educating communities about local, organic farming. CFSA offers workshops, regional conferences, farm tours, and initiatives targeted at helping new farmers get off the ground too.


The workshop was a success! Broken down and explained in perfect farm-speak, GAP certification no longer seemed so daunting. CFSA Local Produce Safety Manager, Patricia Tripp, led the workshop and walked us through each of the audit’s sections. She patiently answered each of our unique questions and, in addition, passed out useful resources for us to take home. We also toured Greenbrier Farms and learned how becoming GAP certified improved their business and left them even more confident about the quality of their food. Since the workshop, Patricia has gone above and beyond answering follow-up questions and providing recommendations.

Overall, the main takeaway from the workshop is that food safety begins with worker health and personal hygiene. As we get closer to being an operating farm, we plan to take full advantage of CFSA’s one-on-one training too. This will also include a mock audit to help identify potential risks and better assess our practices.

If you’re interested in learning more about GAP or other tools and/or resources for farmers, check out the upcoming CFSA events HERE!