I feel farmers are like artists sometimes (at least agro-diverse farmers). The land they farm on represents the medium and the farmer has the ability to create the picture or painting as they see it. This is even more pronounced when you are farming on more than one piece of land and, to add another variable, it is your first year you have started a farm. It’s like creating five works of your own art when you have only helped other artists create their artwork previously. You have ideas in your head of the painting, even before you have seen the land or touched the soil: what you want to grow, how many goats and chickens you need, ways to efficiently water, the sky’s the limit. Then you are given a medium or mediums, in my case. It’s not exactly like you had in your head (is anything, ever?) and that’s OK. You, as a farmer, are doing what you love (you’re definitely not in it for the money), so you will make your art on whatever medium is given to you at this moment in time and you revel in all its imperfectuous beauty.
And creating art is not an individual act: is creating anything really? To make it work, you need certain elements, and those elements are tangible and a part of something bigger and collective. We are so programmed in our culture on the individual, we all seem to forget that with out the sum of the parts, we would not have anything. It’s like the individual is a piece of a puzzle. The piece itself is unique but worthless on its own. However, it plays a vital part in the whole. Without the piece, the puzzle cannot be completed. Without the puzzle, the piece means nothing. Same goes for the artist. For what would she paint if not connected or inspired by someone or something else…if she didn’t have a muse or muses? And who would enjoy the artwork if it did not resonate and connect with those whom view it? The artist uses her own hand to paint the picture (for farmers, this is usually with the help of others too), but the idea or design of the picture is created from the sum of the artist’s experiences and relationships with the world around them. And it is all inter-related. For the farmer, it’s the land and the community that is essential for the art to thrive. The muses of the farm world if you will.
The lands I began working with back in February (66th, 103rd and 47th) were a clean slate. Well, maybe not clean, they did have grass everywhere. But basically, I just needed to remove the grass and/or weeds, test and amend the soil, and create whatever I saw fit in my head. The artistry from a clean slate all came from my knowledge of farming and ecology, ideas, and creativity in my head on wanting to produce a given amount of food on these plots of land. Although this might seem to represent more individual freedom for me as an artist, I am limited only to my knowledge, experiences, and creative thought.
But Cully, Cully is different. Cully has a history. Cully has a previous design. Cully has established perennials. And, most importantly, Cully has a previous painting from another creative, urban farmer. I went into Cully with the thinking that I was going to till it all, start anew, establish a straight row design, create a new palate, just like I had done with 103rd. Then, as time passed by, I began to spend a bit more time at the Cully site. I began to see the land. I began to get inside the design, the history, the former farmer’s head of his creative thinking and knowledge. Not by meeting the farmer himself, all I know of him is his name, occupation, and the land on which he tended for a while. So, by exploring the land, I began to understand his art. I began to appreciate his design and realized it utilized the sun and space quite effectively. Plus, it would be a LOT LESS work to till just the rows currently there (or part of the rows) than have to remove all the mulch in the pathways and till up everything. I started weeding the rows last week, and in doing so, I began rethinking my thinking. Looking for ways to merge his art into mine, opening new doors that were previous unopened in my mind. This, this process, this form, is truly more free. Expanding your creativeness through the eyes of another. Getting to know more than just the land, the soil, the plants, but the history, and the people too. This process has budded the true artist in my farmer.
Some think we are free when we do not have to answer to anyone, when we do as we please and no one can interfere. I say that limits are freedom and closes our mind and hearts. And our art will suffer. I say we are only truly free when we can see through the eyes of or walk in the shoes of another. In the latter we are constantly learning, always adapting, and always changing. This is the only perspective that can give us compassion, connect us to the world around us, and move us forward. And another can be any living, sentient being or energy construct, not just humans. My particular experience with Cully thus far has been through the eyes of another farmer. But there have been plenty of times I have experienced life through other animals or plants, or even mountains or rivers. If you haven’t done so yet, I highly recommend it. And if you really listen and see, you will come out of it an enriched person.
In my first post I mentioned, as part of the dream, finding the true meaning of sustainability. This is a work in progress and there will be more to come about this in future blogs, but I will touch on it a bit here. I looked up the word sustainable in both the Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries. They both had similar definitions when it comes to “the ability to be maintained, or upheld, and the ability to last.” They differed in the second part of the definition. Since sustainable is an adjective it is describing some noun (some action, method, state, etc). I will infer sustainable to be describing the noun version of use here for ease of purposes: sustainable use. MW defining it as “lasting without destroying,” Oxford defining it as “maintaining at a certain level or rate.”
OK, whew, we got the definition out-of-the-way. And what does this have to do with a farmer’s art and freedom anyway? Well, I’m still working on it, but I think when we are defining sustainable use of something (albeit land, energy, manufactured goods, etc) we need to be aware that the rate or level to maintain its use is limited without destroying it. In fact, ideally, it should be more like maintaining it at a level in which both the user and the used can benefit from it. This limit, by no means, hinders our freedom or creativity. Knowing that we as individuals and society are limited, and accepting that, is a key to being sustainable. Let’s sit on that for a while as I know there is more complexity to the true meaning.
So the Cully site has reinvented my farming and meshing our artistry and ecological knowledge together to grow food on this site for the community excites me. I begin planting beans, cucumbers, and squash seed this week. Hopefully, someday, I’ll get to meet Joe. But I hear he lives in a small cabin out in the Hood River National Forest somewhere as a ranger protecting our lands. Cool.
This is my last post before I switch the home page to a more static design. I will still blog, of course, and access will be by a “blog” tab on the top right side of the home page. If you want to keep up just with the blog, click the “sign me up” button to the right, enter your email and you will get a message whenever there is a new post. And if you have kept up so far, you know I only post every few weeks.
The markets start in less than a month and I will have lots of greens and starts available throughout June. And, there are still vouchers and a few CSA shares available. Spread the word or sign up today! And don’t forget to like Mama Tee’s Facebook Page: here.
Ok, so I admit, the rain, more the soggy, wet soil, has started testing my patience the past two weeks. I am still adjusting from the San Francisco Bay Area I guess. I really didn’t think the difference in weather patterns was that great, but it won’t be the last time the weather proves me wrong. This year is unusually different, where the Bay Area is warmer and drier than usual and Portland is colder than usual. Despite the weather, I have managed to transplant and sow enough seed that only my 4 by 8 inch notebook can keep it straight (and barely for that matter), but I still have half a hoop house of starts awaiting their final homes in the soil which is too rain-drenched to plant in currently. While I patiently wait for the soil to dry up a bit, I have spent the days setting up the drip systems, continuously battling the grass at 103rd, training the peas, watching the flowers sprout, digging more beds at 66th, harvesting over-wintered veggies at Cully with Food Not Bombs, potting up tomatoes, trying to talk my pepper seeds into sprouting, making Daikon Radish sauerkraut, and using up every inch of the hoop house with more sown seeds.
As I write this, I know the weather forecast for the next three or four days looks wonderful, so I am gearing up to put the transplanting powers into high gear during this period. Once all the transplants go out, I will be starting the second round of greenhouse sowing which will include the summer and winter squash, the cukes, more basil, and a slew of veggies I will be selling as starts the first few weeks of the farmer’s markets.
Speaking of Farmer’s Markets: Mama Tee’s Farmstead is attending THREE this year!
Every Saturday is at St. John’s in North Portland from 9am to 2pm starting June 2nd.
Every other Sunday is at Lents International on SE 92nd and Foster from 11am to 4pm starting June 17th.
And, every other Tuesday is at OHSU in the SW from 11am to 3pm starting June 5th.
The total market season will run until October 28th. It is so exciting to jump into to the Portland farmer’s market season and I am looking forward to meeting all the wonderful community members, making new friends, and learning about other small, local businesses and farms at these markets (not to mention, selling my goods as well ;)).
I also have my CSA and Voucher information up on the site. I got the idea of the voucher system from a similar farm in Seattle. You can buy a prepaid MTF voucher and then pick up produce and goods at a MTF stand at any one of the Farmer’s Markets with that voucher. It’s similar to the CSA model where it supports the farm upfront during the most expensive time (spring), but also gives an added benefit to the more choosy eater and the vouchers never expire. The CSA shares are also available and include discounts to workshops and/or events and winter U-pick opportunities. For more information and to sign up for either program click here.
Oh, and last, but not least, OK, maybe least :), Mama Tee’s Farmstead has a Facebook site that you can catch more real-time updates on. Click HERE to like us!
Sowing, removing sod, building, composting, planting, sowing, removing sod, building, composting, planting….
This has been the routine of Mama Tee’s Farmstead anytime the weather gives us a slight break in the snow (yep, in late March) or rain.
The hoop house is FULL of little starts from Brassica’s to greens to peas to herbs. I’m contemplating ways to cheaply increase space in that 10 x 20 foot area so I can sow more seeds and still have room for starts that I’ll be selling as well. I have a limited number of starts for sale which will be ready to move out April 10th (or sooner if you want peas).
Here’s the list available so far:
OR Sugar Pod II peas, Calabrese Broccoli, Purple of Sicily Cauliflower, Arugula, Japanese Giant Red Mustard, Lolla Rosa and Henderson Black Seeded Lettuce, Red Russian Kale, and Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage
Prices: $3.00 for a six-pack and $22.00 for a flat (Broccoli and Kale only, ~48 starts)
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your veggie starts today!
I’m also happy to announce that Mama Tee’s has been officially accepted in to two Portland area Farmer’s Markets! Every Saturday MTF will be at the St. John’s Farmer’s Market starting June 2nd and every other Tuesday you can find us at the OHSU Farmer’s Market starting June 5th. I’m still waiting to hear back from Lents International. You might be thinking three farmer’s market’s? Is she crazy? Yes, it is too much. So I will try to schedule every other week(or even every other third) with Lents. I will be selling veggies starts early in the season, vegetables all season, and preserves, dried veggies, and pickles towards the fall.
As for the CSA subscriptions, I am still working out the details, but will be offering two options this year: the first being a traditional subscription to either a full share or half-share in which you will receive a box of veggies each week or the second option will be a voucher subscription which you can purchase upfront for the season and can use that voucher to pick up MTF’s veggies (or other MTF goods) each week at one of the farmer’s markets. Details about options and prices will be up on the website soon. If you have questions, need more information or would like to reserve a subscription now please contact email@example.com.
The peas are up on 103rd, I’ve planted strawberries, and have direct sown the radishes, carrots, and beets. Two beds on 66th are finished and planted with a Spicy Mesclun mix and four varieties of lettuces. The Cully lease is signed and work on this property will begin in a couple of weeks.
I’ve tried to take lots of pictures as I build the infrastructure and plant at both the NE 103rd and the SE 66th properties. So here are a few for you to enjoy:
Properties transformed from useless, water sucking, grass lawns to veggie-feeding food yards for the community! Between the snow and the rain when the weather turned to the 65 degree sunshine this week, a 2000 square foot of lawn was tilled, amended, and transformed , into seven, 4 x 50 ft rows for Mama Tee’s vegetables.
And the peas were the first to be planted here at the Parkrose Heights property. On the line up here for direct sow this week (weather dependent, of course): radishes, carrots, and beets.
The Brentwood-Darlington property moved forward as well this past week with a little help from some new and old friends. Thank you all! This property is getting raised beds in both the front and back yards. We took on the front lawn, removing sod, weeds, and black, plastic matting (which is a big pain, by the way). If you want to keep weeds out of your landscaping or flower bed, I recommend biodegradable burlap or cardboard sheet mulch, not the black plastic.
The seedlings are up and growing strong. In a few days I’ll be thinning the flats out and dibbling the Brassica’s. We also planted some tomato and basil seed this past weekend and they are living comfortably near my window sill in the warmth of my home. A second round of seeding, plus more summer weather vegetables (tomato and peppers) will be sown in the next couple weeks.
And, I’m happy to announce that the Cully property went through! I will be writing up a 2-3 year lease agreement with the landowner this week. This is a great piece of land that has been farmed in the past (the last landowner had a farm stand on the street). So the soil is already conditioned and, although there is plenty of preparation work before planting, there is no grass or sod to be removed! And this the largest urban property I am currently farming (~4000sf).
These three sites (plus the raspberries in Creston-Kenilworth) will keep me plenty busy this year and will be producing enough food for market and up to 10 CSA shares. However, I am still getting to know the area and the people and would like to spread the word about turning back yards into food yards to feed Portland (especially in areas where healthy food isn’t easily accessible). So, if you know of anyone with at least 2000 sf of area that might be good for vegetable growing please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I also continue the search for a larger piece of property to lease or buy to create a more permanent site for Mama Tee’s Farmstead. Unfortunately, the land in Oregon City is just not feasible at this time. But do not worry, a farmer’s best virtues are patience (most of time) and the ability to roll with the changes. Mama Tee’s Farmstead will get there. And, in the meantime, we’ll produce yummy, quality food in the food yards of the Portland community!
With three properties and one pending within the East Portland metro area, I am in the details of design and plan, all the while still gathering and preparing. Being a Sag, details are not my forte, but I am doing my best to become the detailed planner I know I can be. The propagation, sowing, and transplanting all need to be timed providing a variety of vegetables throughout the season. This means successional planting and planning as well. With 3 to 4 properties, this process is a bit tricky. Well, one property is designated for raspberries, so this leaves 2 to 3 properties and the bulk of the square footage. Combine both raised beds and rows and now you can visualize the somewhat complicated designing and planning process. Oh, and add soil and compost storage areas at, hopefully two of the properties as well.
For the Portlanders (or those in the surrounding area), the neighborhoods where Mama Tee’s produce will grow are Brentwood-Darlington, Creston-Kenilworth, and Parkrose Heights. The fourth, which is still pending, is in the Cully neighborhood. Please get in touch with me at email@example.com if you are interested in a CSA share for the season and I will send you more information. The first box of produce starts in late May and the season will run through October. Don’t know what a CSA is? Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a local model for the production and distribution of food. It’s a direct farmer to individual (eater) relationship, where the individual subscribes to the farm early in the season and then receives weekly or bi-weekly (depending on the terms of the subscription) shares or boxes of the vegetables and/or fruits (or meats, eggs, milk, etc., depending on what the farm produces) during the harvest season. They can also participate in member-only activities such as farm tours, discounted workshop prices, and end-of-the-season farm parties. This benefits the individual because they know exactly where and who their food comes from, they receive the freshest, local food available that hasn’t spent days in a truck at the bottom of a 50 lb crate, and they help their local economy and meet other members of the community. It benefits the farmer because the farmer receives support up front, early in the season when the costs are highest, can concentrate more on growing quality vegetables (food) during the season instead of marketing, and the farmer gets to know the community and individuals that eat their food on a personal basis. CSA farmers almost always (or should always) grow a variety of vegetables and use diversified farming methods which decrease risk of crop failure/s and is a strong sustainable model for good stewardship of the land as well. A win-win for everyone!
Mama Tee’s Farmstead will not only be offering a large variety of vegetables in this year’s CSA, but will also be offering fruit, fruit preserves, pickled vegetables, dried vegetables and fruits, and maybe even some sauerkraut! Several workshops are in the making, a collaborative Farm to Fork dinner with a meat CSA is being discussed, and, of course, an end-of-the-year bash on one of the properties can be expected.
Seeds of all the greens, lettuces, Brassica’s (Broccoli, Cauliflower, etc), peas, and some herbs were sown in the seed flats last Thursday and Friday! I planned to use just the commercial soil mix, but the experimenter in me is trying to spice it up a bit with some other ingredients to hopefully come up with a good Mama Tee’s starter soil mix for the future. I will also be selling starts in 6 packs and flats starting in April (this is separate from the CSA). Starting a garden? Contact me!
This week is a busy one. I’ll be taking on and taking out a lot of grass at the Parkrose Heights and Brentwood properties. Hand work and a push tiller will both be involved to prepare beds for the greens, lettuces, strawberries, carrots, radishes, peas, kale, chard, and cabbage. Whether or not the Cully property will be growing Mama Tee’s produce should be decided this week. Also, the website content is coming along and should see some movement in the next couple weeks. And, I continue to discuss with the landowners about the possibility of growing on the acre in Oregon City. The water infrastructure issue has been a slow process and I might only be able to grow, if any, a small amount of vegetables (1/3rd acre or less) on this property this year. Mainly due to the cost of putting in a large rainwater catchment infrastructure.
One last note: I had the pleasure of attending the OSU Small Farms Conference in Corvallis, OR this past weekend with 900 other farmers, food advocates and activists, chefs, farmer market’s managers, and others who care deeply about seeing the small, sustainable farm movement pick up speed. I met some lovely new people from the Portland area and throughout the state, absorbed a huge amount of information about farming in Oregon, got to ride down on a bus with several women farmers, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The keynote speaker, Kristin Kimball, a farmer and writer who owns a 500 hundred acre, draft horse-powered, 170 CSA member farm in upstate NY with her husband, read from her book about her first chaotic year farming during her presentation. Even on a smaller scale, I can already relate and ended up taking one of her workshops later in the day. I will leave you with one of her quotes about farming: ” The only guarantee on the farm is that something will always go wrong.” And, when it does, Wendell Berry would still say: “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.”
There is so much to “getting the goods,” as I’m going to call it, when starting a farm (and a business, although I hate calling it that). In the past couple weeks, I have ordered and received seeds, applied to farmer’s markets, built a starter hoop house, written a rain water catchment proposal, bought a domain, signed my first lease agreement, and planted my first crop of raspberries. I am continuously collecting used pallets, making seed flats out of the non-treated, used wood, and am constantly thinking about design and access to enough farmable land for year one. I am also starting to build my tool and supplies inventory and continue to attend farmer events and network with the community about Mama Tee’s. To say the least, there has not been one dull moment.
Most of my seed supply has arrived. I am due one or two more shipments in by the end of this week. Half of the raspberry canes (Red Heritage and Williamette varieties) and all of strawberries arrived first. Thanks to a 3′ x 50′ strip of land leased to me for 3 years, I was able to plant the raspberries within a week of them arriving. They are in dormancy, but I will be watching the weather and the raspberries closely to make sure if they start to bud, they will not get frost-bitten.
The hoop house has evolved. The skin is up and I made slight adjustments to anchor the bottom a bit more securely. I am working on finding some used work benches to get in there but, for now, pallets will do just fine. I am collecting used pallets around town (Craigslist works wonders for this) and re-salvaging the decent wood to make seed flats for my starts. I learned this trick from the CSA I worked for back in Humboldt County. It saves money and reduces the use of plastic. And they look awesome!
The strawberries, which are also delivered in a bare root and dormant state, are heeled in temporarily to await their final bedding establishment. More than likely, these plants will find their home in my backyard raised beds or another close by piece of land I am checking out.
I have also finished the rain water catchment proposal. This was a process: finding resources, estimating costs, and designing the system. Almost overwhelming at times. And, now that it is finished, it frustrates me with how unreasonably expensive it is for a farmer (and a land owner) to set-up a sustainable system for crop production. I am meeting with the land owners this week to discuss feasibility. Since their land is zoned Exclusive Farm Use, they might be able to get some grants or loans to help with creation of the pond. And, if they want to go ahead with this, I will be trying to raise funds through Kickstarter and applying for a few grants through rain water harvesting and drip irrigation suppliers to meet my ends on the cisterns and catchment system. This is a work in progress and will need support to get it implemented. And, as I told Danielle and Michael: ” I believe we (as the small, sustainable farm movement) will not get any where until we start accessing the potential farming land available (not just the land already set up and ready to go) as well. Which, takes a hell of a lot more work to figure out and we need a shift in the old farming paradigm and policies to a new one that is better for the land (which is starting to happen) and better for the water (which needs to happen and actually might be more important in the long-term).” So, stay tuned for more information and ways you can help.
Regardless of whether I seal the water deal on this acre, Mama Tee’s Farmstead is going to produce veggies and fruits this year. I still plan on selling at the Farmer’s Markets (veggie starts, veggies, fruits, pickles, and preserves), enlisting a few to several CSA members (email me if you are interested), having homesteading workshops, and possibly hooking up with a few local restaurants. It has been fantastic how word of mouth opens up opportunities to farm in the Portland neighborhoods. I have already felt an out pouring of support and would like to thank, in no particular order: Friends of Family Farmers (Michele and Nellie), Seth, Mike D, Scott at Portland Purple Water, Clair Klock, Natalie, Aaron, Jessica, the other Aaron, Linda, Michael, Danielle, Julie, and Debbie. Mama Tee’s can only survive with community support and Portland is the right place to be.
Mama Tee’s Farmstead is working with a local web hosting company to get the website up and running. Thank goodness I don’t have to do this myself! I will announce when it is up and active and will still run the blog (which will connect to the site) as often as possible. Look for it in another month or so.
Let the fun begin!
The past ten days have been busy ones.
Mama Tee’s Farmstead officially has a work truck. It is not yet named. Any suggestions?
The farm just placed its first seed order as well. And I want everyone to know what Mama Tee’s will be growing this year.
Types: 21 vegetables, 2 fruits, 5 herbs, and 5 flower species. Easily over 60 varieties. Most of the seeds are heirloom variety and all are GMO free! All seeds were ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom and Peaceful Valley. A complete list of types and varieties are found at the end of this post.
The hoop house went up in the front yard the past two days. I decided to leave the skin off for now to see how the PVC skeleton does in the next two storm fronts that are moving in this week. The frame was a piece of cake, digging up the grass on the other hand was a pain. I decided to do the extra work and sheet mulch because I really don’t want to battle weeds growing on the floor during the summer. An extra layer of cardboard and newspaper under the cedar chips should do the trick. I will be propagating the majority of seeds in the hoop house starting mid-February or so.
I have decided to get a nursery license so I can sell veggie starts at the farmer’s markets. And, it’s looking like I’ll have two market days. Sunday’s in the Woodstock neighborhood and Wednesday eve’s in Oregon City. Thanks to the state that just passed the Farm Direct law, Mama Tee’s will also be selling at the farmer’s market: preserves, jams, jellies, and pickled vegetables all made from the fruits and vegetables the farm will grow.
To keep you updated in other news:
I’m still working on the rain catchment proposal for the acre in Oregon City. More on this soon. I plan on doing some rain catchment at the nursery (my house) and explore options with other areas I grow food as well.
I have found another landowner in the Foster-Powell neighborhood (just one neighborhood North of mine – a five-minute drive or ten minute bike ride) who will be letting me grow raspberries and, perhaps, strawberries on a portion of her front yard. She is excited to be a part of Mama Tee’s mission! I am continuing to look for more potential land in the SE and will be growing some produce here at home as well.
Produce List for Mama Tee’s Farmstead:
|Purple of Sicily|
|Greens||Japanese Giant Red|
|Mesclun Spicy Mix|
|Lettuce||May Queen (Butterhead)|
|Henderson’s Black Seeded Simpson|
|Onion||Red of Florence|
|Oregon Sugar Pod II|
|Peppers||Cayenne Long Thin|
|Thai Yellow Chili|
|Japanese Minowase Daikon|
|Spinach||Bloomsdale Long Standing|
|Squash-s||Zucchini Black Beauty|
|Early Golden Crookneck|
|Chard||5 Color Silverbeet|
|Royalty Purple Pod|
|Tiger Eye Mix|