We are writing this post to share in our personal journey with the Small Farm Acceleration Program, one we took with caution- which left us in better standing than some other small farms.
We understand the importance of working together to find solutions to problems and that putting people on “blast” isn’t the answer, but I fear for other small farms much less feisty than us. I also fear that the failure of this program will reflect poorly on hard working small farmers rather than the institutions that run these programs.
I have hope that things can move forward in a more positive and more productive way for all but only if we get REAL about the nature of our problems.
In February of 2019, we and 4 other farms embarked in a course graciously hosted by the Wolfville Farmers Market with the goal of creating and completing a thorough business plan to be submitted with our Small Farms Acceleration Program Application. This was a 40 hour course that took place over 10 weeks, so as you can imagine we got to dive deep. Over these weeks we had the opportunity of meeting and talking with many people in the agriculture department about various topics including this program.
During this time we were all very engaged and trying to get the most out of our resources as well as our own businesses. This in no way was a free pass - we worked hard at this! As the weeks went by we all started noticing that some of the information was kind of confusing and conflicting in regards to the program. Anytime this specific issue cropped up it was classified as a “growing pain” since the department of agriculture had just started this program for the first time and there were some kinks that needed to be worked out. So we kept our faith and continued on working hard.
Our first really-red flag was when a couple of guys from the department of agriculture came in to talk to all of us about the Frost Loss Program as while as Agri Insurance/Agri Invest (You had to have one to get the other ;) ) Anytime I see these little clauses I am always skeptical but I thought I would ask some questions and give way for opportunities to rise. I was again met with confusing and conflicting information ...hmm I am starting to see a pattern ...so I went home and found all the information I could on this program and shared my findings with my fellow small farmers. I found 7 reasons why this program would not work for ANY of us. The main one being that you had to have a net income of at least $25,000 aka the money you make after all your farm expenses are paid. That alone should have clued them into the fact that this program would not work for us. Now I can’t speak to what their true intentions were with this meeting and I am not going to assume, but being mindful of a farmer's time would be a good starting point.
We all continued on with the program letting this little side step be, just because our main goal was to submit a super stellar business plan and application. During this time we got to meet with the head of this program several times but our final meeting was a one on one with him where he got to see our business plan in full ( most of them being 20+ pages) as well as our small farm acceleration applications. In these applications we had to identify what we are investing in, how much we were investing, how much more revenue they would create for our farm and when these projects would be done over the next 5 years. All very relevant information that paired really well with a thorough business plan for a crystal clear view of our intentional and methodically thought out business growth. We were all “praised” for the hard work we put in and were told what we submitted would certainly be approved. I honestly thought to myself “damn right I will be approved, I worked my butt off and I am glad I did.'' Haha.
All our applications went in at the end of March as we patiently waited for our “Official Approval” which came at the beginning of May - which seemed like perfect timing, until I found out that my projects now had to be approved… What? Wait?!... Didn’t I just send you a small book with everything I am doing and why? Being the person that I am and knowing the problems other farms were running into with their approval and refunds, I decided to play it safe and wait till my projects were approved, and crossed my fingers that it would be in late may/early june. I mean after all, I had put in my application that my project would be completed in June, plus made a note on my project approval application that I needed approval before July since I can’t lay down soaker hoses and landscape fabric after the plants are in the ground.
Our project approval didn’t come until the end of July...so now we had a decision to make- do we still buy all the things we said we would, even though we wouldn’t be able to use them? Therefore the extra revenue we predicted wouldn’t been seen, making us look like we dropped the ball? Didn’t seem like a good business decision to us, so we decided not to do those projects that were too late to do. I will say I was feeling a little unsure about this choice, until a couple weeks later another fellow small farmer who had taken that course with us was denied 65% of her refund after being approved for the program and the projects...I thought the whole point of approval was so you knew you were allowed to go ahead? None of the small farmers that took the course could believe this was happening, it just seemed completely unreasonable, but unfortunately not completely unexpected, since we knew other small farms that had applied the previous year running into “unreasonable” problems.
All of this left us feeling that this program was much more of a risk than a reward, especially if you are a small farm . Every dime you spend has to count, and just because someone says they “may” reimburse you 50% based on a system of logic that has yet to be well-defined - that is not something our business wants to be involved in. We rather go slow and steady like we always have - I mean after all we are only in our 30s we got another 30 years to “roll in the dough” haha.
But here we are now at the point in which you submit your final refunds and prove you were “all that you could be” in the program and continue on - with my heart set on just leaving the program, purely based on the fact it just really isn’t working for us, I hear yet another small farm in our group has been hit with another absurd reasoning why they can’t have a refund even though they were already approved for it… This now makes 4 small farms that just we know having issues with this program... and we don’t know a lot of people. This is starting to seem a little more systemic than just “growing pains”.
Why write all of this? Why air all this dirty laundry? Well, because I am tired of the idea that small farms are all “fluff”, I am tired of government programs of being actual fluff, I am tired of just keeping the status quo and I want REAL conversations with REAL solutions! Small farms are increasing number so its time to keep up and stop wasting our time, because you know what? our time is valuable too!
I am writing this because it can be kind of confusing to figure out what farmers mean when they describe something as "chemical-free" or "spray-free" or "organic" etc. This is simply to help customers navigate all the different ways produce is described, so you can know exactly what you are getting (or at least have a better idea).
This is written in the spirit of complete honesty and with the feeling that sharing information will only make us all more aware and understanding of each other. There are many types of farming and all of them take a a lot of work and planning. This is mainly focused on vegetables because that is what we grow and what we know.
SPRAY-FREE (no-spray, pesticide-free)
This means that the veggie has not been sprayed by any sort of pesticide (including organic pesticides). SPRAY-FREE FARM means that the farm doesn't use pesticides on ANY of their produce. If they are not totally spray-free, the farm sprays some crops and not others, so if they are rotating their fields (planting different crops in different years) then there may still be pesticide residue in the soil that gets absorbed by the plants roots and ends up in your vegetables.
There is no governing body that overlooks if farms ARE actually spray-free, or if they are just saying that they are. This is where talking to and knowing your farmer comes into play, and this is why farmers markets are so great- because the person standing behind the table is literally the person who grows the food! You can ask them about their farming practices and develop a relationship and a state of trust.
ORGANIC (certified organic)
Organic means that everything that goes into growing the produce is from a natural source (not synthetic) and it has oversight from a governing body. A farm can't call itself organic without going through a certification process, which includes testing their soil for contaminants, lots of paperwork and recording everything they use. Organic is not the same thing as spray-free, because there are organic pesticides that can be used such as Neem which comes from the Neem tree. Some organic farms might not use any pesticides, so in that case they would be organic AND spray-free. Organic also refers to what kind of fertilizers are used to grow the produce, so they can't use synthetic chemical fertilizers.
Organic standards are not the same in all countries, so it's best to buy local organic. Also, organic farms sometimes also sell conventional produce, so it's best to make sure every veggie you buy is organic even if it's from an organic farm.
CONVENTIONAL (industrial, sprayed)
This means that the produce can be sprayed with chemical pesticides and grown with chemical fertilizers. These farms usually don't refer to themselves as "conventional", they just don't mention their farming practices. They are the most common and largest-scale type of farming nowadays, most of the veggies in the grocery stores and used as ingredients in processed food are conventionally grown.
This means the veggies were not grown with chemical fertilizers or chemical pesticides.
This means that they are grown indoors in a water system, often grown with synthetic fertilizers and might be sprayed with fungicides.
A farm that grows on a smaller portion of land with less employees and less overall quantity of vegetables produced.
These farms grow on more land with more employees and produce much more overall, they also tend to have more backing from government programs.
This means the soil is not disturbed every time a new crop goes into it, there might be some fabric laid down to decompose the remains of the last crop, or it might be pressed down and seeded right over the old crop. This allows micro-organisms in the soil to not be disturbed or set back by plowing and tilling. No-till might also refer to herbicides being used to kill off the last crop and weeds before the new crop being seeded in the field.
Farming with the aim to increase biodiversity within the soil and the ecosystem that support the sequestration of atmospheric carbon.
Farming with the idea that the entire farm is a living organism, focusing on the health and vitality of the soil and surrounding nature. Also can have a spiritual and astrological element.
A place where farmers and other small businesses form a collective to sell their products. They pay a fee in order to attend and there is usually a stipulation that it must be one of the owners of the farm/business that actually runs the table.
A building that one farm owns and sells their produce, and also buys other farmer's produce at a wholesale price to sell as well.
GMO (GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM)
These are plants that have had their genes altered by scientists and are dependant on chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides in order to survive.
This is a type of veggie that you can save seeds from and the next generation will be similar to the original.
This is a cross of two different varieties whose seeds will not give you the same variety as the original.
A variety of vegetable that has been around for a long time and is always open-pollinated. Multicoloured carrots, multicoloured tomatoes etc, a lot of types of vegetables were once many different shapes, colours and flavours before it became just red tomatoes and orange carrots.
CSA (community shared agriculture)
This is a program where you sign up with a farm for weekly shares of in-season veggies.
A pesticide that comes from a natural source and is approved by an organic certification board.
A pesticide that was synthesized in a chemical factory and used in conventional/industrial farming.
I hope this has been helpful to you, and if you have any questions about terms that I've missed I will do my best to answer them. It's always good to talk to the farmers you are purchasing your food from to get an idea of what all goes into it, many farmers fit into several of these definitions so the only way to know is ask! Happy eating!
A small-scale, no-spray, heirloom vegetable growing, nature-first farmer (say that 5 times fast!)
Red Russian Kale
Red Russian Kale - a tender, tasty and extremely cold hardy heirloom kale.
This kale was one of the first veggies we ever grew on the farm and it remains one of our all-time favourites. This amazing kale can survive snow, ice, freezing temperatures... anything winter can throw at it, and it'll last under the snow for a long time, only to start growing new leaves in the spring. They get sweeter in colder weather as well. It's the most tender kale we grow so it's great for eating raw in salads and sandwiches as well as for cooking.
Kale is great to save seeds from, they are biennials which means they need a winter rest before they'll flower the second spring. They produce many bright yellow flowers which the bees love and then when pollinated make little bean-like seed pods. Once these seed pods turn brown and dry out, and they rattle when you shake them then they're ready to harvest for seed (mid-summer usually). I use an empty garbage bag, put it over the seed pods and shake them into the bag, the seeds are very small, round and black. Then you have your own seeds that you can plant outside anytime from spring to early fall!
We've been saving seeds from these for many years now and over time come of the leaf shapes have changed a bit, becoming wider and less like an oak-leaf shape. I've wondered if this means they've crossed with rutabaga which has a similar shaped leaf and is the same species as Russian Kale. Either way, the kale tastes great and always does well on our farm, in fact even if we don't harvest the seeds one year they self-seed and we get them anyway! There's a back corner of one field that has basically been taken over by them, which we're fine with.
We know kale is not everyone's cup of tea but we love it! It's a great source of nutrition that can be harvested fresh almost year-round.
Cincinnati Radish - a nice carrot-shaped radish with a long history.
Cincinnati radishes have been around at least since the 1800s, when they were fairly common to find in seed catalogs. They are now becoming quite rare and it's hard to understand why - they grow fast, they have a great juicy, crisp and spicy radish taste, and you get more from each radish! They're very tender and easy to slice up and throw into salad and wraps, and less sulphury than a lot of radishes so are a bit milder.
They turned out to be one of our new favourites this year (though, truth be told, we are a little radish obsessed!). They store in the fridge better than other "spring/summer" radishes, however not as long as the "winter" radishes. Looking forward to growing these again!
Russet Apples - a delicious heirloom apple with unusual skin.
These apples have a rough brown skin covering a crisp, sweet, complex flavoured inside. They have always been my favourite apple since I was a kid, and would pick them on walks around the farm. We have around 7 old trees that had become quite large and overgrown and were part of cow pasture for several decades so have had the benefit of lots of manure for nutrition. A few years ago me and my dad cut down the other trees that had grown up around them and were shading them out, and I started pruning them (as much as I could reach with a ladder- they're quite tall) to try to rejuvenate them a bit. They're still quite productive despite being shaded by much taller trees for so long; we get enough to get some to the CSA and market every year.
There's a lot of history with apples on the farm, my grandparents had quite an orchard at one point (interplanted with potatoes which I found interesting). My grandfather would press cider in the basement of the farm house and there's still the parts to the cider press down there. The main part of the orchard that's left is seasonally pastured by my uncle David's cattle, who eagerly await the apple drops every fall... you can tell because they drool and their eyes get quite big! The ones that are left from that orchard are some red delicious, northern spy, macintosh and I believe one called king? I'm not well versed in apples so maybe if some of my family members are reading this they could chime in here.
We also have lots of wild apple trees that have sprung up along field and forest edges, these are from seeds either from people throwing cores away or from animals leaving behind part of their meals. Most of the apples from these trees aren't very tasty or really even sweet (so end up food for deer, cows and coyotes), but there are a few that are the exception that I've decided to look after a bit more with pruning and compost. One is a dark purple apple with a slightly plum-like taste and the other is a nice red one that is sweet, tangy and crunchy. These two sometimes make it into our CSA shares and market table along with the russets.
Delicata Squash - sweet and nutty, creamy, tender and delicious, one of the best squash out there!
We can't say enough good things about this squash! It's a popular heirloom and with good reason, it's flavour can't be beat! It's thin skin makes it very easy to cook with, just cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and throw it in the oven, then it can be stuffed, mashed, cut up to make squash "fries", it's very versatile. I usually eat a half by hand simply holding it like you would a hot dog haha! They are one of the sweetest squash out there and I would recommend them to anyone who thinks they don't like squash.
We've been growing delicata for as long as we've been farming and always look forward to them being one of the first types ready to harvest, usually mid-september. In our experience once they get past the seedling stage they are not bothered too much by cucumber beetles or squash bugs. They are a Dumpling type of squash which means they don't last as long in storage.
I realized as I started to write this that we've grown 4 different types of delicata over the years (that's how much we love them)- the standard type, the "bush" delicata which grows the squash out of the middle of the plant like zucchini, "candystick" delicata which is tan and striped, and Johnny's Seeds "JS" type which seems to grow longer than the others. The Johnny's type is our favourite since it always seems to grow the best and has the best flavour. Candystick delicata was said to be sweeter and have a date-like flavour but we didn't find that to be true, they were still really good though, maybe drier than other delicatas.
This squash was first available in seed catalogs in 1894, but was probably in home gardens long before that.
Golden Purslane - a delicious and unique ancient green!
Purslane is exceptionally nutritious, it contains high amounts of potassium, iron, vitamin A and C. It contains antioxidants and is the highest source of omega-2 fatty acids of any leafy green! Lots of power in this little plant. It is a succulent, so has a different texture than other greens, it is very thick-leafed, tender and juicy and has a very fresh almost lemony taste. The stem and leaves are all able to be eaten raw and go great in a salad with sprouts or in a wrap.
There is a wild type of purslane that is common in Nova Scotia that is also edible and has all of these health benefits. The type we grow has larger leaves, stands more upright off the ground and is yellower. They are extremely drought tolerant because they're succulents which are mainly desert plants. Ancient people commonly used purslane as food and had spread it by seed over most of the world even in prehistoric times. It was still a common vegetable in the Roman Empire. Most cultures have traditional recipes that use this wonderful little plant. We love it's fresh, energizing taste!
Oka Melon - a juicy piece of Quebec history.
Oka melons are a type of cantaloupe that were developed by monks living north of Montreal. They are quite large compared to other types and are consistently sweet, juicy and fruity flavoured - definitely the best tasting cantaloupe we've tried. Since they were bred in a cold climate they are well suited to growing in Canada's short summers and ripen more reliably than many other cantaloupes. We've saved seed from these for several years now.
For the full story of the monks who bred this melon go here:https://www.thestar.com/…/quebec-monks-bring-back-melon-cre…
Long Green Eggplant
Long Green Eggplant- a nice little eggplant with no bitterness.
These are quite different looking to the large black ones that most people are used to, they are quite small and slender, usually reaching around 8 inches. They are really tender to cook with and don't have any of the bitterness that black eggplants can have. One of my absolute favourite things to eat is these cut up into thin pieces, battered and breaded and sauteed in olive oil - just delicious. And of course moussaka is always tasty! What are your favourite eggplant recipes?
We grow two types of long green eggplants, one from Thailand and one from Louisiana. They both have great flavour and we haven't really noticed much difference between them. These smaller types of eggplants tend to make up for their small size by producing more per plant which is great news. One difficulty we have growing eggplants is that the potato beetle likes their leaves almost as much as they like potatoes, we try to deter them by sprinkling wood ash on the leaves. Another difficulty with eggplants is that they tend to like hotter and drier weather (owing to their origins in India) and that can be hard to find in Nova Scotia. This leads to unpredictable weather-dependant crops but we will always grow them because we love them too much not to!
Magenta Orach - these incredibly coloured spinach-flavoured greens were once very popular in vegetable gardens from before the Ancient Greeks up until the Middle Ages when they were replaced by spinach, which they are a relative of. They are also very nutritious, being very high in vitamin C, K and potassium. We tend to grow them in spring and fall when it's a bit cooler, they always end up in our salad and stir-fry mixes. We had one plant in the greenhouse grow to over 6 feet tall! Quite the cool plant.
Nova Scotia Wild Blackberries! Anyone who grew up in NS probably will be very familiar with these from the time of being kids and happening upon a patch and proceeding to stuff as many as they can into their mouths! They are smaller than grocery store blackberries and much sweeter and flavour-packed. We've found that they tend to be even more flavourful in drier summers.
They are usually ready mid-to-late August and we harvest them from our large wild patch on the farm that has been there as long as I can remember. We try to get them into the CSA and the farmers market whenever we can, depending on how abundant the crop is and how much time we have to devote to picking them.These are truly wild because we do nothing to help them along, no water, no compost, nothing, they are true survivors and do quite fine on their own. The only thing we do is to cut walking paths through them, but that is more for our benefit than theirs! (I recommend long sleeves and pants when picking them haha)
Some of my earliest memories are picking wild blackberries for breakfast in Cream of Wheat with butter, milk and brown sugar... so good! Such a nostalgic wild treat. The bees love the flowers too, you can hear the buzzing just walking by the blackberry patch. This wild patch also provides habitat and food for many critters and birds, we suspect there is a skunk living somewhere in there but we've had the good fortune of not running into it yet! Cross your fingers...
Crown Pumpkin - a beautiful blue heirloom pumpkin coming from New Zealand. It doubles as a great fall decoration as well as a great eating pumpkin - they are mildly sweet, nutty, moist and smooth, one of our favourites. They can store for over 6 months, getting better tasting as they go. Unfortunately we had a complete crop failure for these in 2018 due to the double whammy of late frost and then dry-hot summer - here's hoping we'll have another nice pile this fall!
Black Radish - an heirloom fall radish with a long history of use in Europe and Asia.
These are an unusual type of radish that was bred for its ability to store well and for its medicinal qualities. It has thick, rough skin that allowed it to last the winter in a root cellar, it will also last that long in the fridge. They are crisp white inside and have a very spicy, bitter flavour - great for adding a punch of flavour to a fresh dish, or if you cook it it becomes more mild. Our absolute favourite way to eat it is fermented, which we learned of through Seven Acres Farm & Ferments such deliciousness!
There's an old traditional Russian remedy that uses black radish for a natural cough syrup. You take a large radish, carve out the inside, fill it with honey and let it sit for 5 hours before using the honey and radish juice mixture. I haven't tried this yet but it certainly sounds interesting!
River John Blue Potatoes
River John Blue Potatoes - a Nova Scotian heirloom potato. At one time this was the main potato grown in Nova Scotia, it's named after River John in Pictou County. People have even speculated that the name "Blue Nose" comes from how much we used to eat this potato.
They are a beautiful purple potato that looks like a chunk of amethyst when cut in half, they have a good flavour and contain antioxidants due to their purple colour so they're healthier than white potatoes. You can use them like a russet potato, they're great for roasting and mashing - purple fries and mashed potatoes!!
They are a bit later to harvest than other potatoes but we find they are more resistant to potato beetle than other varieties, they are always the last ones in the field still standing. We think this is because they have longer stems, so are more lanky compared to other bushier types, more work for the beetles to climb up each stem? maybe. They have a really nice purple flower as well that the bees love, and their stems are purple as well which makes them an overall nice looking plant. They also seem to produce fruit, the "potato berry", more readily than other types which makes them great for saving "true seed".
Costata Romanesco Zucchini
Costata Romanesco Zucchini - one of the most popular zucchinis of Italy, and it's easy to see why - once you try one you're hooked! They are very beautiful to the eye, dark and light green striped with wavy ribbing and dark/light green speckles. They have a nice nutty flavour compared to other zucchinis, and are more firm yet tender so have a better texture after cooking. Even when they get larger, where other zucchinis might get spongy or watery, these stay perfect. They are insanely productive as well, if you want to plant just one crop that gives you a load of food for the summer this would definitely be a good fit!
We grew these for the first time last year after hearing great reviews from other farmers and market goers, and now we're wondering why we didn't grow them sooner. In the hot summer we had they grew absolutely huge and healthy, giving us plenty of food for the CSA, market and ourselves!
An interesting thing about Zucchinis and Summer Squash is that they belong to such a variable species of squash - Cucurbita pepo - which includes jack-o-lanterns, pie pumpkins, many decorative gourds, spaghetti squash, acorn squash, delicata and sweet dumpling. Good to know if you decide to save seeds from something you're growing, if you have zucchinis and pumpkins next to each other you could get some very weird looking results in the second year which may not be useful for your purposes (but then again it could be! It'll be a roll of the genetic dice)
Squash and Zucchinis were domesticated thousands of years ago by Native Americans and were first used purely for their edible seeds, since the flesh was originally bitter and potentially poisonous (an attribute that lives on in decorative gourds - don't eat them!) Later on they selected more for sweet, smoother and thicker flesh which led to the squashes we know today. It's amazing to think about how much we have today that only exist because of the hard work of people that had come long before us. It's quite humbling to take on the work that has sustained humanity for millenia.
Heirloom Multicoloured Carrots
Heirloom Multicoloured Carrots! Everybody's favourite colourful veggie.
We love growing these beauties - every harvest is a surprise, you pull one up and and see what nice colours appear. We grow a bunch of different types of heirloom carrots and throw all the seed into the same seeder and then wait patiently to see what we'll get. The purple coloured ones in particular have an added layer of surprise, since the inner colour can vary, depending on the variety, from purple, purple/white, orange, and orange/yellow.
The different coloured types tend to grow at different speeds as well, with purple being the slowest, then red, orange, white and then yellow are the fastest. This is why (as our CSA members may have noticed) that the mixed bunches tend to have smaller purple carrots and larger yellow ones. The flavour is mostly pretty similar, but we find the orange type we grow (Scarlet Nantes - an heirloom from France) tend to be the carrot-iest of the carrots. All carrots take awhile to germinate in the field (2 weeks) and from then have small tops for awhile while they grow the root underneath, this means they require a lot of attention early on to combat weeds from shading them out (as any farmer will tell you). However, they are definitely worth the attention because everybody loves them and they are so nice looking!
Ashe County Pimento Pepper
Ashe County Pimento Sweet Pepper - a nice little heirloom pepper with great flavour hailing from the mountains of North Carolina.
We have been looking for a bell pepper that does well in our garden for many years now, and it wasn't easy because peppers tend to like hotter and drier weather and that's not something we have an abundance of in Nova Scotia! Anyways, we tried out this little pepper and it did really well for us last year! It's like an average bell pepper but with a shorter stature a bit thicker flesh - very juicy, crunchy and sweet. They start out green and mature to a beautiful bright red. We saved loads of seeds from them last year so we're hoping they'll become a regular in future summers.
Squash Breeding Project
Here's another one of our squash breeding project, this one lasted 6 months in room-temperature storage and was eaten just as the first spring flowers were popping up! Still as tasty as ever, nice orange flesh perfect for soup. This type belongs to the species Cucurbita moschata which is the same as butternut squash.
The fact that we are taking this class alongside fellow farmers really enriches the experience and we often gain insights from one another that is just as valuable. Working together has really helped build my confidence too. It has made the farm business feel more real. I know that is an odd thing to say/feel but there is this subsconscious tendency to feel negated because you are a small farm and I am not going to let myself do that anymore. Adam & I work way to hard to feel like it's for nothing. We grow valuable food!
I am doing this to ensure I have a wide variety of high quality crops for the CSA. I want to be able to harvest crops that were never sprayed. I want to be able to pick out the best of what we have for our CSA. I want to be able to surprise CSA members every week with something new. I want to be able to have a bumper crop of tomatoes and basil so I can say "thank you for supporting our farm!" As I started to answer the "why" I started to feel better about it.
So I say to all the small farmers out there. When you are in doubt or feeling lost just ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing? Don't get sucked into what other farms are doing because your farm is an extension of you and your values. There isn't a right way or wrong way even though it may feel that way.
Be Stubborn, Farm on!
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Squash Breeding Project
Here's one of our breeding projects on the farm. We allow different varieties of squash to cross-pollinate and then save the seeds each year. The goal of this is to end up with a squash that is perfectly adapted to growing in the Annapolis Valley and has excellent flavour, is a vigourous grower and will store for a long time through the winter.
Saving seeds has become more and more of a fascination for us each year once we learned how easy it is! Many vegetable seeds can be saved simply by removing them from the mature fruit and placing them in a container of water overnight, the viable seeds will sink to the bottom and the duds and other matter will float to the surface which can then be poured off. The remaining seeds can be placed on a cloth or paper towel next to a window to dry, then when they are fully dry place them in a bag for planting next year! If you are still unsure if the seeds are viable, take a few of them and place them in a ziploc bag with a wet paper towel and just wait to see if they sprout!
Seed-saving and the breeding of new varieties is how all the types of vegetables we now enjoy have come to be. Through all the hard work of the countless generations before us we now get to enjoy such a diversity of delicious food. For example, the corn that we now have was bred from a grain called Teosinte in what is now Mexico, and watermelon was bred from a bitter fruit with hard green flesh in the Kalahari. It's such an amazing thing to think about how much we benefit from our ancestors hard work, and it's definitely an honour to continue to work with what is literally their artwork that sustains and nourishes us. This is not just a squash, it's our history in edible form!
Silver Slicer Cucumber
Here is a variety of cucumber that our CSA members and market goers will be very familiar with- Silver Slicer Cucumber! We've been growing this type almost since we began Olde Furrow Farm and it has consistently been a favorite of ours and many, many people that try it! It's sweet, juicy and perfectly crunchy with not a hint of the bitterness that green cucumbers can sometimes get- you can eat it skin and all. We like to pick them a little smaller because they tend to be even sweeter and crunchier at that size.
Even looking at the pictures makes me think of the heat of the middle of summer and the refreshing bite of one freshly pulled off the vine (which happens quite often while they're being weeded).
Our Unique Nasturtiums
These are our beautiful and tasty Nasturtiums! We've saved seeds from them for several years now, picking out our favourite colours and letting them freely mix. The original seeds already produced beautiful flowers but over the years we've seen more pastel and bi-colour ones pop up which is always exciting!
Nasturtium flowers are edible and have a nice spicy flavour, and the leaves do as well. They go great on top of salads. The plants are really easy to grow and can get quite large in optimal conditions, and when planted next to many other vegetables they are a pest deterrent. Bees love them!
Ali Baba Watermelon
Ali Baba Watermelon - A delicious heirloom watermelon from Iraq. We grew these for the first time last year and we LOVE them. They have the best flavour out of any watermelon we've tasted or grown, and they get HUGE (30-40 lbs were some of the biggest)! In these pictures you can see them filling up our large harvest container and you can see me (Adam) cutting up one of the "small" ones. They are also shaped oblong which makes them easy to cut into chunks for the CSA shares. It's true that we had to harvest them a little early this past year because of an imminent frost (so they didn't achieve their full colour on the inside) but even then they tasted amazing. They are certainly high on the priority list for the upcoming growing season!
It's surprising that a watermelon from such a hot country like Iraq would do so well in cool and wet Nova Scotia, but once you take into account this is an heirloom that has been grown for thousands of years by different people in different weather, shared across different lands and different growing conditions it's a little less surprising that it did well. That's why heirlooms are so important! (and new varieties bred from heirlooms). They have stood the test of time for surviving and flavour.
Compare this with "commercial" varieties of vegetables which you get in the grocery stores, they are inbred over many, many generations to get the uniform shape that they think customers want, and they select more for storability and their ability to stand up to shipping then for flavour and nutrition, because if it lasts longer on the shelf it's more likely to be bought and that's more money in their pockets! Commercial varieties also are overwhelmingly sprayed by pesticides and herbicides over years and years, so each generation is less able to survive in natural growing conditions. Heirlooms are important because all those adaptable genetics haven't been bred out of them, and with the unpredictability of future weather due to climate change we are going to need these strong, resilient and nutritious varieties of vegetables.
We are so thankful for all the people that are keeping the good old vegetables alive both by growing them and by buying them! (You vote with your wallet after all) - nobody would have access to these delicious foods otherwise.
Passamaquoddy Sunchokes! They are a pretty amazing vegetable to grow since you harvest them like a potato and they grow like a sunflower! (over 6 feet tall) They are also super productive- you easily get 1lb per plant. They are great food for the bees since they bloom so late in the season, around the end of September, when most other flowers are done.
They will certainly play a large role in the future as an incredibly important food source (as they have since time immemorial for Native Americans) since they are pretty tough to kill and provide plentiful food year after year even in adverse conditions. They are very nutritious, more so than potatoes, containing more much more iron as well as inulin- a carbohydrate that doesn't metabolize in the body- meaning it's completely safe for diabetics to eat!
We've found that not everybody likes these guys, and that's understandable because they have a very noticeable flavour (as opposed to something like carrots or potatoes). We've determined that the flavour is similar to the one you get with sunflower seeds, but others have said they taste like artichokes. Another reason some don't like them is because they give some people gas, but over time we've found that really cooking them down more than you would a potato is the tastiest way to have them, as well it reduces the chance of gas. If you are part of our CSA this year just let us know if you don't like them and we will substitute for something else!
On the other hand, if you really like them, and have a patch of garden soil you are not using, you could take one and bury it about an inch or 2 down and you will have sunchokes until the end of your days! You can plant them pretty much any time the soil is unfrozen (before August if you want a decent harvest). They will even last in the frozen ground over the winter, getting sweeter tasting by the spring- that's where most of ours are right now- just waiting to be harvested for market goers in May.
This specific variety was made available to the public through Hope Seeds and we find it to be the tastiest and best looking of the kinds we've tried. They are originally from Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick.
Brandywine Tomato - one of the best tasting tomatoes ever, in fact it might just be the perfect tomato. Anyone who's tried these before can attest, there's regular tomato flavour and then there's Brandywine, it on a whole other level. It's fruitier, juicier and more tender than a lot of tomatoes and it gets huge, 1lb or more, perfect slices for sandwiches with mozzarella and basil.
Brandywine tomatoes are said to be the single most popular heirloom vegetable, and they also contributed greatly to the recent growing interest in heirlooms. They are not the most carefree tomatoes to grow however- they need to be started early because they are a late-season tomato, they tend to get a bad spot if they are touching moist soil, their skin splits if they get alot of rain at once, and we've found the pheasants on the farm really like to take little test-bites out of them! However, even with all those drawbacks, the flavour is still worth it. We actually had our best Brandywine year ever in 2018! While other vegetables had trouble in the hot and dry weather these guys thrived. We've saved seeds for these basically since we started farming, they are always a top priority to save for sure.
The best way to store tomatoes for flavour is to keep them outside of the fridge, yes they won't last as long but you will get the full fresh-off-the-vine flavour much longer. Grocery store tomatoes are harvested when still green and then ripened artificially by ethylene gas to turn them red. They do this because it allows them to be shipped farther and store longer, because they stay harder-skinned like an unripe tomato - this decreases the flavour and nutrition of tomatoes. That's why when you pick up a tomato at the Farmers Market they have more "give" to their skin, it means they are ripened naturally on the plant! It's a good thing!
Our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) has gone through big changes this season and for many reasons. We would like a chance to share with you how and why we are making these changes because there is a lot of thought that goes into it!
The other benefit CSA members will get is building their relationships with local producers outside of our farm. We have always strived to share and support other producers whenever we could and we know our members would love the opportunity to grow their local food family!