Lettuce rejoice – our romaine lettuce is making its way around Greenville!
Last week, we harvested, washed, weighed, and packed 20 sample bags full of lettuce. We gave them out to members of the City View community, our colleagues, and potential buyers. After a successful trial harvest, we’ve worked out most of the kinks and have begun selling produce to local restaurants.
Following GAP protocol during and post-harvest (practice makes perfect), we harvested about 24lbs. of fresh Romaine on Tuesday!
We’re well on our way to having a post-harvest processing system, which means we’re almost harvest-ready! This is all thanks to Legacy Charter School, who has allowed us to use a building on campus (a space we simply call the blue building). We have the alarm code and keys to the building, the roll door will be repaired soon, and our field sinks are fitted and ready to go! We’re still working with CFSA to plan a site visit and mock audit for GAP certification. As we approach our first produce sale, we plan to work diligently on the safety manual and operating procedures.
We’ve also been working on field carts! Jason turned an old, broken wheelbarrow that his neighbor was throwing away into a cart we can use to transport between our field and the blue building. We also realized we could use one of Jason’s old child-bike carriers to bike or walk our produce to Swamp Rabbit Grocery or to neighbors. Next step: figuring out how to keep produce cool.
We’ve been testing our coolers and everything looks promising! The CoolBots seem to operate well but unfortunately, we damaged one of the thermocouples during installation. Thermocouples are temperature sensors often found in thermostats. Luckily, Farmer Jason was able to follow directions on the CoolBotwebsite to modify the controller, which allowed the CoolBot to operate without a thermocouple. A new thermocouple ($20) has already arrived and we tried again. This time, we were able to get both coolers down to 45°F in the morning shade. When we get these coolers moved into the blue building, we’ll be able to achieve even lower temperatures! This week, we spent about 10 hours caulking, sealing, and cleaning the coolers. They’re ready to go!
Unfortunately, we have discovered a recurring problem. Occasionally, without notice, the drip tape disconnects from the coupling, which is a tube that connects the drip tape to our sub-main, ½” water line. The connection is a slip-on fit with a screw-type cinch-down onto the coupling. This could perhaps be user-error — we may have been a little sloppy while connecting it all together. We’re reaching out to the company we purchased everything from to see if there’s a good tip for avoiding this problem. Meanwhile, the irrigation still works great! In the 36 day billing cycle from 3/23/2017-4/28/2017, our Greenville Water bill shows 3,200 gallons used. This is 88.9 gallons per day. We’re incredibly happy that we invested so much effort into high-quality irrigation. We don’t think our first round of crops would have made it through this warm Spring without a dependable system.
Fencing & Wildlife
We think the squirrels are up to no good! Occasionally we find small objects buried in holes, like small rocks, shiny pieces of plastic, and this week, a glittery Christmas garland! We don’t think any of our fence options would prevent squirrels. Our neighbor, Ms. Tarrant, continues to see rabbits in her backyard, but has yet to notice them on the farm… Yet! Friday afternoon, we saw two brown rabbits dart away from the overgrown weeds at the edge of our beds. They are still outside the fence and we’d like to keep it that way, so we’ll reinforce parts of the fence that are drooping. We also plan to do a good job maintaining the edges of the beds so pests have fewer places to hide.
Seedlings & Plants
One row of irrigation was not connected for a weekend, so that row looks a little stunted compared to the others. It’s likely that the other rows didn’t get the correct amount of water either due to the disconnected line — it would’ve reduced pressure for the entire system, which might have compromised the watering rate. Otherwise, the seedlings look healthy. They taste good, too!
Business & Marketing
We paid our first water bill this month. Next, we will set up our monthly payment to use the blue building. The biggest news is that Jac and Julie from the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery visited the farm and our processing area. We will work with Julie to sell our first round of lettuce crops! We’ve invested in produce bags and are working to secure Legacy City Farm labels. Thankfully, we have all of our crates ready to go!
Education & Outreach
We had a great time at Legacy Charter School’s Career Fair! We brought worms, rye, oats, wheat, herbs, and flowers for the scholars to see, smell, and hold. There are so many great opportunities to work with Legacy scholars on senior and classroom projects.
We also attended the City View Community Meeting, where The City View Coalition, Bon Secours, and Legacy Charter School worked with the Greenville County Planning Department to create a community vision! The kick-off event really showed the value of having a working farm in City View. We put some effort into highlighting the importance of healthy food access in the plan.
Farmer Jason also attended the CFSA Cover Crop Workshop at Clemson University’s Student Organic Farm. At this meeting, we were able to see some of the large-scale cover crop procedures first hand and learned about ongoing research. Best of all, we got to meet other farmers who have a like-minded curiosity about conservation practices. We strongly recommend that all growers pay attention to upcoming CFSA workshops and publications. We all left with a nice copy of the SARE publication: Managing Cover Crop Profitably. The publication is available for download on the SARE website.
We’ve wrapped up the Terra Preta Research Project with Ms. Frazier’s scholars at Legacy Charter School. We had a small celebration, as well as a reflection on our semester-long biochar project. We were most impressed with the cooperation and genuine interest of the scholars, as well as Ms. Frazier’s patience! We persevered through many weeks of data collection, analysis, and background research. For many of the scholars, this was their first time reading and analyzing scholarly, scientific papers. Likewise, this was surely our first attempt to write a comprehensive scientific paper of our own. We look forward to working with Legacy scholars on more science projects in the future!
The primary focus now is getting our first round of lettuce across the finish line! We’ll continue setting up procedures for harvest and post-harvest, as well as start weed wacking, and working to secure produce bags and labels. We’ll also begin planning our perennial food hedge along North 6th St!
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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 this6ft 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 fromBanner 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.
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).
There are four principles of GAP that guide the point system:
Prevention of microbial contamination
Implementation of a Food Safety Program
Follow all applicable laws
Traceability, record keeping & documentation
Four W’s + Surfaces
Water, waste, workers & wildlife
Surfaces – hands, containers, harvesting tools, etc.
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.
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!