High Waters 2012

As the long-awaited rains come, the level of the Mary’s river has surprised us all.  Grange Hall Road is as closed as a submarine door.

On the one hand, the overflowing river has given us a fertile soil. On the other hand…the river is overflowing.

Welcome to the Blog, AB!

As you can see, we have a new contributor to this blog…with skills. Welcome AB!

AB was going to take photos of the follow up work to be done with the pork carcass, but got snowed in and couldn’t make it. So I forged ahead alone. There are certain timetables that belong to the breakdown of a pig at GTF. Salami gets made and thrown into a fermenting chamber for 48-72 hours. Belly gets put into a dry rub to begin a ten- to twelve-day curing. Coppa goes into a 12-14-day curing period. The petite hams, which are a new project for us here, were put up for 12 days in a dry rub. But they need a little longer…next time we will go 14-16 days to make sure we cure to the center.

Anyhow, we were up to 12 days with belly, coppa and hamsss, so we did some smoking of belly and hams. I also cased, inoculated, and hung to dry the neck muscle grouping called the coppa. A good day was had by all.

Portland Winter Farmers’ Market

The Portland Farmers Market took another step toward year-round farmers’ marketing this winter by adding nine Saturdays (January 7 to February 25) to their schedule. The weekly market is held in Shemanski Park between SW Salmon and SW Main from 10 am to 2 pm.

This run of winter markets (along with winter markets in Newport, Corvallis, and Hillsdale) gives Gathering Together Farm new opportunities to reach our customers with fresh and stored produce. It also helps the farm keep its finest workers employed, and it brings home much-needed income at a time when expenses are high and financial reserves are low (due to seed buying and getting ready for the spring and summer growing season).

Because winter is not known to be conducive to vegetable farming in Oregon, GTF has taken steps over the years to improve the quality, quantity, and diversity of our cold-season offerings. We’ve raised more hoop houses to insulate crops against cold temperatures and keep them from drowning in the rain. (For more on the subject, give this OPB radio story a listen). We’ve selected vegetable varieties that store better, longer and planted more of them. We’ve even teamed up with Sweet Creek Foods to preserve some of the harvest by canning it.

Because of our efforts, we actually have a fairly wide selection of vegetables and preserved goods for sale each weekend at our farmers’ markets. Our customers, in turn, have responded by braving the cold, rain, and wind to get their hands on our organic produce, and for that, we are so very grateful.

The availability at our winter markets will vary with some weeks being more abundant and some a little skimpier depending on the circumstances. Expect to see lots of root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, rutabagas, celariac, parsnips, turnips, beets), aliums (leeks, onions, shallots, cipollinis), and greens (chard, kale, collards, salad and/or braising mix) as well as our house-made salsa and our canned goods.

GTF certainly won’t be the only booth at the Portland Farmers’ Market this winter. Actually we’re just one of 40 vendors, which together offer vegetables, seafood, baked goods, grains, frozen and storage fruits, a variety of meats, nuts, dairy products, prepared hot foods, wine, coffee, jam, yarn, and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Portland Farmers Market isn’t our only winter market. We’d love to see you in Corvallis at the Corvallis Indoor Winter Market, in Newport at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds Fairgrounds Farmers Market, and every other Sunday in Hillsdale at the Hillsdale Farmers Market.

 

Pig Break-down

The cool winter months are a time of preparation at the Gathering Together Farmstand. While much of the vegetable and on-farm food preservation occurred in November, the start of the new year brings a second phase to the GTF kitchen: butchery.

Less than a mile from GTF, Mosaic Farms grows and produces some of the nation’s finest heritage breed hogs. Using hand-mixed feed, sustainable land management, and so much love, owner/operator Chris Hansen has grown Mosaic steadily over the last two years. He is one of a cadre of young farmers in the region who is putting his own stamp on agriculture through his hard work, smart business practices and full bore commitment to the welfare of his animals. Last week, Hansen personally delivered a whole hog, packed in ice in the back of his station wagon, to the GTF kitchen.

Breaking down the animal took several hours as chef, JC, worked to prepare meat for copa, bacon, salumi and fresh cuts. Of the 200-plus pound whole animal, less than four pounds was determined unusable.

For a gallery of images from the break-down, visit our Flickr photo set, here. A warning: we believe people should know what their food looks like at all stages, however some of the images are graphic.

Variety Selection and Seed Ordering

Gathering Together Farm will celebrate its 25th anniversary this summer, and over those years we’ve trialed just about every kind of vegetable that could possibly grow in this climate. Currently, we plant hundreds of varieties of dozens of crops. Each growing season, new varieties are sown at the farm while others are culled because of poor performance.

Last week, Joelene (seed, greenhouse, and irrigation manager) sat down with John and Sally (co-owners), Rodrigo (field crew manager) and Rose (human resources, customer service, and marketing manager) to go over the fruit and vegetable variety list from last year and reassess what worked and what didn’t. Each member of the annual planning meeting looked at the same vegetables from a unique perspective, bringing his or her own experience to the table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joelene is concerned about seed availability and expense, germination rates, disease resistance, special infrastructure needs (drip irrigation, floating row cover, etc.), space management, and the timing of maturation.

Rodrigo focuses on ease of planting, weeding, trellising and harvesting. He also pays special attention to yield.

Sally, as manager of the packing shed, looks at ease of washing and packing, quality, shelf life, and storage properties.

John, as a farmers’ market vendor, judges appearance, taste, demand, and additive value to the diversity of a display.

Rose sees what is most sought after by restaurants and other wholesale accounts, when in the season crops go out for sale, and how much we are charging for each item, giving insight into what makes money for the farm.

It’s very rare than any single variety is top-rated in every category of judgment. A particular type of vegetable may:

…be gorgeous but not taste great.

…be loved by everyone but get discontinued by seed companies.

…look good but not keep long enough.

…have a high yield under ideal growing conditions but have heavy losses when things are too wet/cold.

…be attractive to customers in the dead of winter but passed by in August.

…have exceptional flavor but be prone to disease.

Often times, the selection process is less a decision about which varieties to grow or don’t grow and more about the proportions of each variety grown. As the farm expands, there is more ground and more need for a diversity of crop types, too.

Joelene has spent many hours recently calculating the farm’s seed needs, reviewing seed inventory, and placing orders. She’s already purchased the vast majority of seed needed to plant greenhouses with early summer tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, etc..  She tries to order just enough of this high value seed because it’s expensive to maintain an excess inventory, and some seed will go bad if stored for over a year.

Joelene will buy many pounds at a time of some types of seed that do store well and will be used in large quantities. For example, she ordered no less than 2,000,000 carrot seeds for the coming year.

Joelene’s major seed and plant material sources are:

Wild Garden Seed (Gathering Together Farm‘s seed-growing partner)

Johnny’s Selected Seed

Osborne Seed Company

Territorial Seed Company

Seeds of Change

High Mowing Organic Seeds

Totally Tomatoes

Seed Savers Exchange

Snow Seed Co.

Rocky Farms LLC (potatoes)

Lassen Canyon Nursery (strawberries)

The first few seeds of the 2012 growing season were sown last week, but soon the propagation greenhouse will be bustling with activity–seeding, grafting, thinning and watering. Joelene will direct seed the first of the early spring greens in greenhouses this week, too.

In the coming months, we’ll be sure to share photos and information on all the greenhouse prep and seedling tending as well as insight into our farming and marketing practices. We hope to see you at our 2012 winter farmer’s markets: Saturdays in Newport, Corvallis, and Portland and Sundays in Hillsdale.