Farm Blog

Thank you again for braving the blizzard to celebrate, connect with great food, and 'planting an orchard'! Just imagine all those future cherry trees (don't forget to squat:-).
I am so uplifted from all the good vibes, intentions, laughter and seeds shared and planted.

We were able to raise $850.00 in funds! This will go a long way, thank you! Additionally, with all the seeds donated today and from what I've gleaned from others, The women growers in the Sine-Saloum region will be able to plant out a couple hundred row feet/farm. In the past we've planted shared 'demonstration beds' ie since many of the farmers share space/land to grow on we've constructed seeds beds to trial different varieties, plant insectory herbs and flowers and share techniques. From there seeds are harvested and shared forward amongst the individual farmers. So in essence your generosity helped plant teaching/learning/eating/

sharing beds of veggie, herb, and flower goodness!
 

I will honor my commitment and extend the immense gratitude, generosity that was shared during the workshop with the women farmers in the following ways:

Work with NCBA CLUSA Farmer to Farmer Program to transfer funds and mail seeds.
I'll also email and share highlights, photos forward later this week in celebration of our workshop success.

I am tentatively set to travel there Nov/Dec. or January in 2016.

I also finally remembered the name of third grower group, JUBO (means widespread). If you're interested in learning more about how they got started, here's a link to an interview I did as part of my last Farmer to Farmer adventure in Senegal.

I Will keep you in the loop as the project evolves and thanks again for sharing your generous spirit!

For the chocolate lovers:
Becky Otte, who made the amazing truffles, has more of her chocolate goodness to share and is selling some of her creations just in time for Valentines. if you're interested send her an email: raonine@gmail.com

Also Here is a link to Roots Chocolate website.

For the Fruit Lovers:

I've enclosed a handout of some of the different fruits we grow at our farm as well as a flyer highlighting this season's events at the farm! We'd love to have you venture out and tour the orchard, come visit us (though not nearly as cool as the orchard poses we did during the workshop).

Thank you again for helping me transition from being a butterfly weed seed (ie wind pollinated, not knowing where or how my intentions, projects might stick) to more of an oak or cashew seeds - wherein I can deepen my awareness, provide support in the same place(s) in Senegal for the growers and in my backyard in Wisconsin:-). Here's to planting the seeds of the as yet to be imagined on and off the yoga mat! Wishing you all much abundance.

Happy Mid-winter!

Yours in hardy kiwi,
Erin


PS If you are into exploring the planting side as well as enjoying more local fruit creations, we'll be hosting a Local Fruit Tasting May 16, details on our website.

 

Your Farmers are on TV! Enjoy the Guest Blog from our Friends with WPTV Around the Farm Table

We had so much fun working with Inga Witscher, Colin Crowley and the crew at Wisconsin Public Television in being part of their “Endless Summer” Episode of this season’s Around the Farm Table. Enjoy the blog entry by the show’s producer, Colin Crowley and enjoy the episode!

Producer and videographer (and occasional goat wrangler) Colin Crowley is back, with a behind-the-scenes look at the second episode of Around the Farm Table.

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The Fruit and Flower Mood Board - a Season's Color Palette Reverie

The other day I received an inquiry to grow and design a flower feast for a 2020 wedding celebration. With 12 years under my belt, I continue to deepen my understanding of how to both read the landscape as a grower, align wedding dates with flower phenology, and read the needs and interests of clients and members.

June brought the ability to see green. Growth was the name of the botanical game and I found myself marveling at how the pears, peas, and poppies sprung from its original seed-coated horizontality, gesturing forever upward and outward. Onward with growth, mulch, and the subtleties of purple and pink. Pink pillows of peony blossom, cathedral spiries of delphinium racemes and the intimate splashes of pink on pistils on view when I paused to consider fruitset of apples and aronia.

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The Harvest Homestretch

A single nighthawk, batting across the sky one evening last week, was enough to panic us about the end of summer. We’d already been watching the barn swallows getting set to leave. In mid-August, their offspring still romped the skies, swooping for horseflies past our ears, testing one another with their dives. Last week they sat on the wire, carefully watching the sun go down. Next week, the boreal dark one step too near, they will be off and gone.

It seemed a good occasion then to look back briefly on the summer and estimate what the Fall might hold in store before frost chokes the life out of what remains of the garden.

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A Love Apple Lament: RIP First Generation Quince Trees

“There is no fruit growing in the land that is of so many excellent uses...serving as well to make many dishes...and much more for their physical virtues.” John Parkinson, Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris, 1629

This winter we experienced a bit of paradise lost with just one sole quince fruit holding steadfast to our 'orchard terrestris'. It is with great heart ache that we had to say goodbye to all but one of our quince trees. Allow me a lover’s lament and with it a longer than usual newsletter article.

I was making the morning rounds, loppers in hand, lamenting the role of grim orchard reaper, but reminding myself that just as we try to give the plants in our ‘care’ a good life, so too can we give them a good send off to the composted beyond. Working close to the land with my hands, having experienced the death of family and friends, I thought I knew a thing or too about life and loss. So, I planted white clematis vine at the base of a few quince trees that took on a dancer’s pose in its tree tomb stillness. I took comfort in imagining the ways that snow white flowers will entwine and embrace the quince in its dance with decay. I took solace in noting that a dead tree will harbor more life in the form of insects, fungi, and avian friends during the decomposition process than it will when alive.

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Lilacs

May is the time of year when lilac blooms appear in the share.

            To be fair, we did not grow these. 

            The four ancient trees which bear the flowers came with the house when my parents purchased it in the early 1970s.  At that point the farm had been abandoned for nearly thirty years.  Even at the time, the gnarled, twisting trunks were massive, coppicing out from what must have been the location of some original, planted stem, heaving the soil upward and out around them as they went, as if they were not so much growing as erupting from the earth.

            Originally there were five, ensconcing the house at almost every turn.  As a teenager, I removed the one that stood abaft the front porch.  It's scent was lovely, pouring forth through the dining room window in May.  But it had the misfortune of blocking the view to the northwest where the warm-season sunsets were an essential companion at the balustrade after a long day of work.  Extracting the tree was a two day task even when I was young and full of energy.  The roll of terrain left in its wake remains an object to be negotiated with the lawnmower even to this day.

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Wrapping up In Her Boots Podcast Series Talking Beauty

“The Earth didn't need to be beautiful, it just is..." Mary Oliver
One element that drives our farm, but is often overlooked, is beauty. We grow food and flowers as it connects to our passion for the Earth and people, builds bridges, softens spaces, and helps us connect, explain the mystery in between my hands where bouquets are born.

I am grateful and excited to wrap up the In Her Boots Podcast Series featuring our farm to talk beauty and celebrate the beautiful place that is our farm and our hearts. Happy Listening!

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Women Farmers and Regenerative Agriculture

I had so much fun sharing insights with Lisa Kivirist, Eco-preneur, Author, Director with the MOSES Rural Women’s Project, and all around inspiring human! Enjoy the third and final iteration as a guest on the In Her Boots Podcast series, geeking out on regenerative agriculture and all good things that emerge from our humble collaborations with the humus-sphere and fellow humans.

I am grateful to Lisa’s storytelling ingenuity and keeping me on course (am prone to fruit tangents).
Happy Listening!

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Moments in Place spark Poems

How do you capture a single moment in a place you’ve called home for most of your life? Much less distill it into 15 words?

The possibilities are endless, encounters with woodchucks, a conversation with a friend, experiencing the floods, hunting morels, moonlit swims on Lake Redstone, the moment when swallows leave, luring a swarm of bees, the smell of spring soil, whew! We are grateful to have the land, our community and our imagination guide us. The end results are surprisingly asymetrically greater than the sum of its singular words—sunflower synergy

Seriously, this past winter Rob and I traded our broadforks and spades for pens and paper, digging into brevity in the hopes that we can tell a story or two about what we love about our home in the shape of a 15 Word Poem. This was part of the 20 Poems Project, convened by Reedsburg ArtsLink.

Words, like seeds, need a bit of dormancy before sprouting. They also need a little tending to before a plant or poem is born. I am grateful for to the editing eyes of writer friends, and fellow ‘Poetry for Everyone Workshop’ classmates (I gifted myself this class through Madison College for my 40th birthday). After three months and several iterations, we just learned that each of us will have a poem highlighted as part of the 20 Poems project.

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In Her Boots Podcast Features your Farmer's Story

One thing that keeps me going and growing 12 years into my farm tenure, is the network of farm women in our area, that I can lean into and draw inspiration from, share ideas with, and offer mutual support in times of stress and celebration. To me, this embodies our design intentions with food forests—perennial polycultures of multipurpose plants that share resources and create networks of mutual support. Whether it’s pears or people, we’ve been able to set up a strong underground root system and keep flexible shoots, in part because other farmers keep us propped up. I tried to capture this spirit in conversation as part of the In Her Boots Podcast with Lisa Kivirist, Eco-preneur, Author, and Director with the MOSES Rural Women’s Project.

I am grateful to Lisa’s storytelling ingenuity and keeping me on course (am prone to fruit tangents).
Happy Listening!

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Getting Started

An annual rite of Spring for many vegetable growers in this area is the Upper Midwest Organic Farming conference which takes place regularly during the last week of February. Some growers insist they won't start seeds until after its yearly passage.

When I originally contemplated taking up community supported agriculture I ventured to what was the first such conference to try and get a grasp on whether CSA was something I should be undertaking in my mid-30s – vegetable production has a reputation for being murderous on the back and joints, as I already knew from gardening, and I wondered if I should be diving into it more fully as I approached middle age. I remember little of the conference but the presence of a number of participants much older than myself was reassuring.

While attending, I stayed with a couple of college friends who had recently moved nearby and started a family. When I reunited with the two of them again recently – after having rarely been in touch over the intervening years – I found myself trying to estimate their children's ages and getting it wildly wrong even after compensating for the passage of time. Not only were they past high school but through college and on into adult life.

Such unpleasant shocks are a hazard of age but a good reminder, at least to me, to be thankful that vegetable farming, whatever its risks to backs and shoulders, has at least one hallmark benefit: unlike other types of agriculture - or employment generally - vegetable growers are effectively dealt a new hand to play every year.

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Agency and the Allurement of 'Farmerhood'

While ice dams plague roofs, snow drifts cloak balsam roots, and the soil steeps in frozen stillness, I turn inward. Winter is not just a workout with the shovel, but also an exercise in exercising choice—if only to stir movement and heave the frosts of doubt that last season—the wettest, darkest on record for this farmers 12 year tenure stewarding Hilltop—threatened to erode the seedbed of my spirit.

Bone-weary, I fall back to the days spent pumping butternut barbels to meet the ossuary demands for the mid-winter dinner. Why do I persist? There is this lingering romantic myth in our culture that is perpetuated about farming. It goes something like this: Summer days are spent basking with butterflies and blooms, gallantly hoeing away weeds and cares, plucking peppers, and careening with carrots, so that come winter, farmers in the world's temperate regions, kick back, relax, sleep and feast the days away in a quiet merriment as there is 'nothing' to do. This world might exist, if only in fits and spurts, but do we really have control around our days, and who would really choose working 90 plus hrs a week in pursuit of plums? Life circumstances and societal demands of business plans, taxes, market analysis, crop plans, seed orders, grower conferences, 'off farm work to feed the farming habits and pay the interest on your operating loan', the unsatiable hunger of instragram and facebook feeding, and our longing to (re)connect with nature (ironically through social media datapoints and virtual realities) make it hard to take a step toward Enough.

What's a farmer to do?

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Avoiding the Hazards: 2018 Retrospective

I've often likened vegetable farming to golf -- each year a completely different course, unknown in its layout and length, with novel demands on one's skill-set, exhilarating to engage (inevitably) no matter how draining and demoralizing the final tee. If this comparison is apt, I can say the back nine were especially hard on us in 2018.

Farming is famous for its yearly gauntlet of perils, primarily involving the vicissitudes of weather and markets. At Hilltop, we can at least be thankful to avoid the latter since we sell primarily retail.

But Nature swings a large bat.

As growers, we hedge against calamity in whatever ways are possible – row-cover in the Spring, seven-foot deer fencing, water-catchments to bridge the droughts, obsessive mulching to hold soil-moisture and protect against pounding rains. Much of our preparation is geared toward managing the hydrologic cycle.

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A Vote with our Shovels, 2018 Fruit Results, Planting Optimism with Perennials

We harvested our last quince the other day. It held steadfast stemming from its home perched on the limb of the tree, surviving the frosts, a freeze, and even a few snowshowers earlier in October. This lovely 'love-apple' fruit marks the end of our harvest season. We have been enjoying the slow sweet ripening on the counter diffusing and seducing with hints of flowers ready to be cooked in the kitchen. When you catch a nostalgic scent of springs past, cut and simmer quince with your apples for a hearty sauce, or enjoy solo, slightly poached and drizzled with honey-invoking the spirit of Aphrodite and Venus – honoring the culinary traditions from Apicius to your Grandma's orchard, and marveling at how such an ancient fruit has been overlooked in today's kitchen. You may also be asking why quince fruit was overlooked on the fall fruit menu this season. Our harvest was minimal yet beautiful and unfortunately we did not have enough fruit to extend into fruit market shares or much for our retail quince lovers.

Not to be a fruit tease, we wanted to share how the fruit season as a whole fared and would love to hear from you! Please take a moment to let us know how we did and we will do the same

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Flowers by the Numbers, 2018 Flower CSA Bouquet Breakdown

I picked my last bouquet today. It was a modest mix of mums, and a few lingering calendula, veronica, tansy, and '3rd generation delphiniums' that survived the frosts, a freeze and even snowshowers the other morning.

I am continually amazed at the intensity of color and optimism present in blooms. I continue to find hope imprinted in a ray of beauty. Late fall on the farm is a time to not just tuck in the flower beds with a bit of mulch and manure, dig up the dahlias, divide, transplant and seed spring blooming perennials, but also a time to reflect, on the seasons past. I would love to learn how the season fared for you?

Please take a moment to reflect and share the following:

What worked?

What didn't?

Would you do it again? Why or why not?

And for some context, the following are reflections on the season, where your flower share investment went, and what's in store for next season. You may want to settle in with a warm cup of coffee/tea, as by now you likely know that brevity is not a strongpoint:-).

Why a Flower CSA?

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Fibonacci Numbers, Sunflower sequence, and Mid-summer's angles of reposeFibonacci numbers, mid-summer's angle of repose

Happy August! Wow it's really August and we are already at the mid-point of the Flower CSA season. There is a point in the growing season that reminds of my days in Washington's North Cascades pondering alpine glacial geology while collecting native plant seed for restoration education projects with the National Park Service. We would be along the trails seed collecting Elymus glaucous (blue wild rye) and a slough of floral friends. Now and then I would stretch my back and shift my gaze from soil to skyline. The glaciers would 'sit poised' when viewed from a distance, like a well fed cat, cool and contented on its perch. That such a mass of ice, could just 'hang out' along a 60 plus degree slope without an ensuing avalanche is a marvel. In geologic speak, this point is known as the angle of repose – the steepest angle at which a sloping surface, (in the case of glaciers ice) formed of a particular loose material is stable. It's a marvel that an icy mass of material withstands gravity at such an angle--that such stillness from a distance—can mask all the movement taking shape, giving form to the Earth upon closer viewing.

In the botanical sphere of your flower farm, there is a similar angle of repose,

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Flowers as Self-Care and Nourishment

A Guest Blog Post I contributed to the Leek and the Carrot

Every once in a while, I get a nudge of encouragement and invitation to creative play in a flower farming industry that provides endless challenges through all the beauty. A huge thank you to Lauren Rudersdorf, the talented writer, farmer, and soil sister behind the Leek and the Carrot and Raleigh's Hillside Farm. It is an honor to be a guest blogger and share acts of beauty and flower mojo with you. And if you haven't already, her blog one to follow in all it's culinary ingenuity and farm-her authenticity. Thank you Lauren!

It must have started with plucking a daisy’s petals, in my mom’s garden.  Mindlessly chanting, “He loves, me, he loves me not,” as I plucked petals daydreaming of a crush I was too awkward to approach in my gangly teenage years. It’s interesting to note that the daisy, along with several thousand species of aster family members, usually have an uneven number of petals, so if you start with ‘(s)he loves me,” that’s probably where you will end up! Maybe the flowers seduced me, as I plucked the petal love. Regardless, the theme of love and trust has stuck with me as I love flowers and continue to learn what it means to trust in their wisdom as a flower farmer.

I have always grown flowers – in my mother’s garden, as part of my own landscapes, apartment balconies, and kitchen windowsills as I worked my way around one mountain peak to the next in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska Interior as an outdoor educator and native plant restorationist, and later returning to my Midwest roots, wherein among other adventures, I fell in love with a farmer and well, a Farmer Florist was born. When I started farming with my husband Rob at Hilltop Community Farm in 2009 flowers were always part of the field mix, work/life balance, experimentation, and soul nourishment. The last 7 years, however, I have been consciously shifting from vegetable production to fruit and flowers and this is my fourth season with a ‘formal’ flower csa program and 11th season with wedding flower work. I enjoy how flowers balance and compliment other areas and market channels for our farm including our fruit and vegetable share program.

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This Growing Act of Beauty is For You

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” Rachel Carson

I am trying to endure. April has been rough and exhilarating for your farmer. Rob has always been much more Zen about life's disturbances and I continue to learn from his fluid, grounding love. For me, I've been at the mercy of April's moods. On the one hand I am welcoming the snow and quiet and the chance to linger over coffee with friends, catch a film, read the backlog of BrainPicking's Newsletters, or dust off the canoe. On the other hand, snow and cold unsettles my circadian farmer rhythm. We should be hardening off our young larkspur and allium transplants and seeding spinach alongside sweet peas. Instead the seeds and seedlings stock-pile in our greenhouse overflow zone (aka our kitchen and dining room).

Cold and wet is great for fruit tree planting, grafting, and dividing perennial herbs. Yet this too has been hard to do since the frost refuses to leave let alone heave under the weight of the shovel. 2014 memories come to mind—a year without kiwi due to a lingering cold come May—the kiwi refused to fruit save for 11 brave berries. There is reason to hope amidst the fickle jet stream.

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Orchard Music

"To listen to trees, nature's great connectors, is to learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance, and beauty," David Haskell, Song of Trees

We have been listening to, singing with, and growing fruit trees and flowers since 1993--growing and nurturing neighbors, and fruit forests throughout this 24 year time frame and would love to welcome you into the farm foray--we promise we won't make you sing and dance. We will let our fruit and flowers sing a symphony for your tables.

At the start of another season, as we wake up from the dream state of winter-- here are some of our farm's favorite music we invite you to tune into.

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Madame Butterfly a Floral Opera

I have been contemplating flowers and operas. Specifically the story of Madame Butterfly. I know, I spend way too much time thinking about flowers and am ready for the ground to thaw and start planting!

Ever wonder how flower varieties are named? This question nudged me as I paged through the seed catalogs and became mesmerized by the floral photo candy of Antirrhinum majus – Madame Butterfly var. My curiosity soon meandered to Giacomo Puccini's famous Opera, Madame Butterfly wherein the human Butterfly first took to the stage in Milan, Italy in 1904.

The unique double-petal flowers of Madame Butterfly snapdragons are no less dramatic than the opera's themes of cultural and sexual imperialism, and allow me to mingle the operatic and horticultural. Here is my attempt at the Snapdragon Opera of Madame Butterfly.

Madame Butterfly the Opera – summarized from the Metropolitan Opera website

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FRESH Start

In the short lull between seasons that we get at the top of the year, my mind is sometimes directed toward the wider landscape in which our CSA and others operate.

Generally unseen by CSA customers are the support organizations that provide help with visibility, marketing, professional development and skill-sharing necessary to the farms which grow their food. Fair-Share, the organization that provides these services in much of southern Wisconsin, is probably familiar to eaters as the sponsor of the annual open-house at which CSA farms advertise their wares to potential clientele. In its earlier years the organization was known as MACSAC (Madison Area CSA Coalition), a group of eaters as well as farmers who came together with a mission to educate the public about sustainable farming issues in order to help kickstart the CSA movement in Madison during the early 1990s. Given the solidarity and general bon ami that exists within the community of CSA practitioners, it might seem hard to imagine that there was a brief period of schism and dissension back in the first decade of the millennium.

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