To our great excitement and slight worry we’re expanding the Good Turn Farm operation this year and taking serious steps in our transition to making real income from farming. We’ll lay out our approach and reasoning here for those who find it useful or interesting.
Good Turn Farm has been developing in our minds and on the land for several years, our moving into farming full time is delayed by Kevin being in the middle of a graduate program in sustainable agriculture at UMN studying cover crops, which, along with Annelie’s work in non-profit sustainable agriculture education in Minneapolis requires us to be in the city for much of the time. We’ve tried making progress in spare time and on weekends, but even keeping up with weeding the garden and mowing the lawn this way is overwhelming; let alone farming for market.
This year, Annelie will be cutting down her workload and spending part of her workweek farming. To make this happen, we’ve done a lot of planning and preparation since this fall. Our approach began with some tips from holistic management, in which we established our personal goals for the farm and decided which types of operations support those goals. We then looked at our situation- you could think of it as a SWOT analysis: what Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats are specific to Good Turn as it exists now? Well, we have land, access to tractors and conventional farm implements, a decent amount of training and Annelie is an experienced gardener and floral designer. We don’t have much capitol, labor resources, or vegetable production equipment/infrastructure. We have a big opportunity for customer exposure due to the Little House wayside being across the road, a fairly busy county road passing through the farm with high visibility. We’re challenged by not living at the farm full time or having a livable home there.
With all those in mind, we decided to set out with a few enterprises. We’ll play on Annelie’s strengths and grow organic market vegetables and flowers, which we’ll sell at a farm stand in the barn and a few other venues. As we’re able, more enterprises will be added. Right now, we have our eye on mushroom production and U pick organic berries.
We’re laying out the farm enterprises based on some ideas taken from permaculture design. We’re putting things that need lots of attention close to the areas where we’ll be most often so they’re always up front in our minds. Therefore the vegetable production will be located near the barn and the hoop house. The method we’re adopting for vegetable production is based partially on Jean-Martin Fortier’s design in the Market Gardener, which uses permanent raised beds which are carefully managed with succession crops, multi-year rotations, and small scale equipment. Because we have larger scale equipment to work with, we went with 4 foot wide beds and 4 foot wide aisles between them, rather than Jean-Martin’s 30 inch beds. A tractor can easily straddle the beds, and a cart can be pulled down the aisles, which will be planted with a grass-legume cover crop. All our beds are 50 feet long so that seeding, cover, and labor can be easily calculated and tracked. This will also allow us to see how well each individual crop is holding up financially.
The layout of the beds follows ideas from keyline design in which they’re arranged parallel with contour lines to prevent erosion and shallow swales are used to move water from valleys where is collects out to dry ridges to soak in. We started this fall with my grandma’s old garden plot, which we’ve been working on for two seasons. We dug the entire garden with a chisel plow and used a bed shaping implement that Kevin whipped up out of an old plow frame and some 4 by 4 lumber to rough out the beds. We finished the shaping by hand and amended all the plots with a bit under a pound per square foot of composted manure from Cowsmo, and a half cup of azomite for micronutrients. We’ll be doing the same in the hay field in front of the barn this spring as soon as we can get in the field.
Below is a list of some of the tools we used, and some alternatives.
- Rotary laser level for making contour lines; other options are lake in a tube water level or a walking A-frame level.
- Chisel plow or field cultivator for digging; other options- ask your neighbor, it’s an hours work and every conventional farmer has one, rototiller, double digging or broadfork .
- Raised bed shaper (we used a few 4 by 4s in a funnel shape): other options- use a moldboard plow to throw soil into beds from walkways, or make the beds by hand shoveling. Hand shaping takes about an hour per bed with two of us, but we only managed three a day before getting worn out.
- Cover crop mix- bunch grasses
- Google earth pro which is now free, to get high resolution satellite images, and a visual program for making overlays we’ve been using power point, but an illustrator or GIS program would be more professional.