Sunday, June 24, 2012

Learning where our food comes from

One of the things I love about my two 10x10-foot community garden plots is I know exactly where my food comes from. I know about the seeds or plants I put in the ground, the soil and compost I plant them in, and the fertilizer and organic pest management products I use. But as intensely and densely as I garden these plots, they don't produce enough food for our summer vegetable consumption, nor do I grow as much variety as we like to eat.

Enter our community-supported agriculture (CSA) box of vegetables from Tipi Produce near Evansville, Wis. We've been members of this CSA for five years, and love the long season of fresh veggies, the variety and the quantity (which we share with another couple). After five years of membership, Jay and I finally went down to see "our farm" for the summer tour and pea-pick. I was more interested in the tour than the peas, and took a few photos to share.

Co-owner Steve Pincus started the tour at the pea patch (just behind him). Steve began farming in 1975 and Beth Kazmar joined the operation in 1999. They purchased this farm in 2001. They chose this particular farm because it has sandy soil that warms quickly in spring and allows them to get an early start on the growing season. As a result, the CSA begins weeks earlier than others.

Steve amends the soil with a combination of leaves and fully-composted manure that comes from off the farm, and growing cover crops such as hairy vetch and rye. The cover crops are cut and tilled into the soil, and left to decomposed for about a month before a new vegetable crop is planted.

Irrigation is vital to healthy crops, and being able to grow crops quickly to allow for successive plantings. The reel at left feeds a overhead irrigation "gun" that is slowly reeled in using pressure from the water that irrigates the fields. The farm also uses drip irrigation (didn't take a photo of that). Imagine plants poking out of a narrow plastic strip, and running under that is a thin hose with holes in it every foot. The holes drip over time, irrigating the plants. The plastic keeps weeds down and minimizes water evaporation.

Steve has to think way ahead to make sure he has enough produce to fill the CSA boxes each week. Pictured on the right are lettuce plants. The boxes have already had several weeks worth of leafy greens.

Pollination is vital for plant production, and Steve hosts these hives throughout the summer. When vegetables aren't blossoming, the bees are able to forage on the cover crops, or flowering plants in the wide paths between fields.

Green zucchini, and lots of it. Tipi produce has already harvested a couple of times, and we'll probably get a lot more from this prolific plant!

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