Hi there! Deirdre here...
Recently I have become really excited about doing traditional crafts, particularly sewing, knitting, crocheting. I often find myself perusing the internet for photos and information on knitting, yarn sources, hand made clothing on etsy, super cute DIY home decor, etc. I started to feel frustrated that I was just dreaming of doing these and was never actually starting to just do them! (I could easily imagine myself still just looking at others' work in a year!!)
So about a week ago I actually went to the arts and crafts store and bought yarn, knitting needles, very basic sewing stuff, and some twine and cute mini clothes pins for a craft project I'd been wanting to do for ages. It felt so good to begin turning my dreams into fruition. Instead of sitting on the couch with my phone in the evening looking at others' stuff, I am sitting on the couch beginning to crochet! I am committing to crocheting for at least a few minutes every day. My goal is to be able to knit and crochet hats, headwarmers, and Christmas stockings. (In my family growing up, my mom knit a stocking for each one of the kids and I always wanted to do the same thing.)
As well as beginning to crochet, I also sewed felt hats for our flower fairy Halloween costumes and have been mending some clothes... very basic stuff but you have to start somewhere! My goal for sewing is to make basic baby clothes, headbands, and especially adorable baby bonnets (with Liberty of London calico).
I hope one day to be able to raise sheep for wool, learn how to spin, and do the whole process from wool to clothes but for now it feels so good to be beginning to connect with generations of other women for whom these were every day important tasks!
Max here... remember this post from back in March?
I don't think we've posted anything about the orchard since that original post, but we still have it, and have been working up there for the last 8 months. And now, we are exactly one week away from our first harvest!! We've been waiting for this moment for a long time!
This is a very different kind of farming than what we are used to, and the next 1-2 months are going to be extremely busy harvesting, hauling, milling, bottling labeling, and then pruning the whole orchard shortly after that! I've never had to deal with more than a truckload of produce at once, now we are going to be hauling tons (literally!) of olives from the orchard to the mill.
A combination of good luck and diligent care has won us a large crop this year, and almost all our 825 trees are loaded with olives. They are varying sizes, and a small number of trees are ripe now, with the majority ripening around Thanksgiving and early December. Our harvest next Sunday will harvest only the small portion that is ripe now, and we will be able to get a feel for the whole process, and press a small batch of oil before harvesting starts in earnest in about a month.
Needless to say, the concept of having gallons and gallons of prime cold-pressed, local extra virgin olive oil is exhilarating! But I guess we shouldn't count our bottles before their pressed... stay tuned, the anticipation is building!
Hi Folks, Max writing. As the weather finally begins to cool off here, our summer crops are winding down. Siobhan and Declan enjoyed picking some of the last tomatoes from the vines in front of our house, and we are saving the best ones to sell, and making tomato sauce out of the rest of them. We're also picking the last of our eggplant and basil, and it looks like the zucchini will hang on for a bit longer. We did a much later planting of zucchini -- it was a gamble, but it has stayed warm enough and it is paying off now!
One big change for us going into the fall is that for the first time, we are having a wholesale nursery 40 minutes down the road start our fall/winter crops for us. Up until now, we have grown all our own transplant starts ourselves, with varying levels of success. Even when all goes well, it is one more thing to do around the farm, and we are delighted to be paying the nursery $13 per flat of plants, and they show up to our farm in perfect condition. I no longer have to drive out to farm 2x per day including weekends (plants don't stop needing water on the weekend!) just to water the transplants. I simply supply the seeds to the nursery, and then leave them in the hands of professionals, who have the perfect greenhouse setup, and then I pick them up when they are ready. It's been a huge time saver for us, AND we now have increased yields because of high transplant quality.
About a month ago, we transplanted out romaine lettuce, butter lettuce, salanova lettuce for salad mix, spinach, kale, and green onions. We are now harvesting large amounts of all those crops! We are so excited to have fresh greens again, other than arugula, which grows quite well through our hot 100+ degree summers.
A couple weeks ago, Diego Footer from Permaculture Voices spent a whole day with us on our farm, and also driving around with me to all the other farms we partner with to offer produce in Ojai Farmstand. He got a lot of video footage, and just published the first in a series of videos about our farm. This first video is fun, because it tells the story of how we got started 4 years ago, and it didn't happen the way we might have thought! It all started by getting up one morning and driving down to "Rancho Del Pueblo" a 10 acre organic farm nearby that had some volunteer days, and I wanted to get my hands dirty, and gain some experience and connections. The rest is history -- watch Diego's video below to see it in person, filmed on site at Rancho Del Pueblo!
Max here... Just today, Diego Footer from Permaculture Voices, and Curtis Stone from The Urban Farmer published a video discussing 10 farmers to pay attention to. I was stoked to see Ben Hartman on the list whose book "The Lean Farm" has totally revolutionized the way we see and organize our farm. Richard Perkins and Connor Crickmore are two more farmers we have enjoyed following and learning from, through Diego's podcast, and the recently published video "Gracie's Backyard." I need to look up the other farms to learn more about them, except one that really surprised me...
I was completely surprised to see our farm on that list! Thank you Diego and Curtis for the good word, and that motivates us to work even harder to create a farm and business worthy of the recommendation. If you watch the video, fast forward 31 minutes to hear them discuss our farm and webstore.
Hey Folks, Max and Deirdre writing together here...
A few weeks ago, we took an amazing trip with the whole family to Maine. Back in March, our good friend and band member Margaret asked us if our band Hidden Fifth wanted to play a concert as part of a Catholic Rural Life Festival being organized by Fr. Paul Dumais of St. Joseph's Catholic Parish in Farmington, Maine. Although we hadn't played a full theater show in 4 years, we were up for the challenge, and said yes! Boy, are we glad we did!
The Festival spanned 4 days of amazing events from Sept 14-17. Fr. Paul described the event as a "Conversation on Nature and Grace" bringing together Catholics to both reflect on the ramifications of our faith on rural living, and to celebrate that life fully. One good way to describe it was a combination of a spiritual retreat, and a grand celebration of rural values such as food, farms and folk music and dancing. The festival combined common prayer, classes on homesteading skills, lost culinary arts, common meals, talks, presentations, contra dancing, and our concert.
Upon arrival, we were hosted at the beautiful Morrill Farm B&B in Sumner, ME. The B&B is on a working farm with dairy, pastured broilers, and a beautiful farmhouse and barn from the 1700s! The Family has also built their own private chapel on the property, and part of the festivities for the weekend took place there, including a procession through the fields, and blessing of the fields and barn. We got an extended tour the first morning, and were enthralled by the beauty of the farm, and the hospitality of our hosts.
We played our concert on Friday night for festival attendees and the show was open to the public. It was a fabulous evening of music and dance, and we don't know whether we or the audience had a better time that evening! We definitely want to play a show in Maine again! The venue was a beautiful old Church converted to a concert venue.
Saturday night we attended a 5-course farm-to-table dinner featuring food from 14 local farms! The parish provided free babysitting for the kids, who got to eat wood-fired pizza cooked on-site, homemade french fries and homemade ice cream from a local dairy farm. We thoroughly enjoyed being able to eat our meal without chasing kids around, and the nice ladies helping out commented that Declan really knows how to eat a lot of pizza! Since we don't generally feed him pizza at home, we guess he figured he had better stock up! We have no doubt that Siobhan took advantage of the quantity of pizza too, and the fact that Mom and Dad weren't in the room to curtail consumption.
The dinner was followed by a contradance, and we danced every single dance. Deirdre started out by wearing Declan on her back, and then when he fell asleep (we had some late nights that trip!), we put him down on a lambskin in the hall, and kept on dancing! Siobhan danced almost every dance, and did a great job for a 4 year old dancing at 10 pm!
We were also excited to meet 4 staff members from the national non-profit Catholic Rural Life. We have been members of CRL for the last year, and it was exciting to talk to them about our farm, and new website www.youngchristianfarmers.com. They gave some great talks over the course of the festival.
It's hard to convey just how amazing of a trip this was for us. All of our life's passions came crashing together at this event. Folk Music + Farming + Faith + Community + Contra Dancing + Local Food + Beautiful Rural Nature + Traditional Skills + Stimulating Intellectual Conversations. We could not even soak up all the goodness that was happening there in the four days that we had. It inspired us to live out our values to the fullest, and we were so honored to take part in, and even contribute to the festivities. We could go on and on and on, but we'll let some of the photos speak for themselves.
We were inspired to reflect deeply on how our faith compels us to work hard to restore the rural family to the American cultural landscape. We encourage all our Catholic brothers and sisters to work for the same goal, which Pope Benedict considered an important need for our times. "The rural family needs to regain its rightful place at the heart of the social order." Even if we don't all live in rural areas, we all as eaters depend on rural families to provide us with our most basic life's necessities, so we are all in this together, and we all benefit greatly from a robust culture of rural living. One concrete way to do this is to become a member of Catholic Rural Life, which needs members like us to support them in their important work of ministering to these rural communities and building them up.
Deirdre here. I keep on wanting to post but life has been so full recently that I don't have time to even step out of it and talk about it. =)
My family has been rehearsing hours a day for a big show that we have tomorrow at a 5000 seat theater in Redlands, CA! On top of that Max and I have been rehearsing for a show we are doing with our band Hidden Fifth in Maine. The practices have been long but I am so excited because I have not played this much music in over 10 years (since my family recorded their last album in 2006)! It is so amazing to be playing so much! Over the last few weeks I have improved so much just by playing and putting the hours in! This experience has reminded me of the important lesson that in order to get good (or stay good!) at something, you have to put in the hours, and do it a LOT!
Last night, we played for a contra dance and usually my hands are really sore by the time the second half comes around but this time I was not sore at all! Loving it!
I am so excited to be playing so much again and am determined to keep it up! I often get frustrated at our inability to carve out time from our busy life to find time for music, but shows force you make the time, and Max and I are determined to keep it up. Max has even been brushing up his dancing for the shows. I want my fiddle and dance students to hear this, so they are encouraged to put the hours in and get the amazing experience of playing that much better!! :) Keep up the good work kids!
The video above is a shot from one of our many band practices at home getting ready for the show! My three young cousins are joining us on fiddle, cello and mandolin, Max is playing flute, and our good friend Margaret is playing guitar. We have had multiple 8-hour says of virtually non-stop practice like this! It feels so good to practice this much!
More home practicing... Our friend David joins us on the pipes!
My whole family playing for a contra dance in Santa Barbara. We almost never get all 5 of my brothers and sisters together for a Contra dance, but last night we did! It may be the last time in a while too!
My favorite podcast to listen to is Permaculture Voices, hosted by Diego Footer. Diego brings a variety of small-scale, permaculture-based farmers on the show. To quote from his website, his show covers:
"Honest, hard conversations about farming, business, and life with those trying to make a living doing something that they love and dealing with life in the process.
You’ll hear from experts who are far down their respective paths and people just like you who are starting out and making a go of it and learning as they go.
I’ll dive deep into each story, looking at the why and the how, leaving you with practical tools, tips, and techniques that you can put into use right away to be part of the change by doing your work.
Remember… though you may not be able to change the world, you can change your world, so go for it.."
A few months ago, Vancouver Microgreens grower Chris Thoreau called to ask if I would join him for an episode with Diego on microgreens. We ended up recording two episodes, one on microgreens and the other on our produce webstore business. The webstore episode went live this week, and part 2 featuring the microgreens will be published next week. I'm posting a link here, and following up with my comments and afterthoughts on the interview. The episode starts out with the story of how we started farming, and then goes into greater detail on the inner workings of the webstore business and how it compliments out farm.
The interview process was a lot of fun, and Diego is a great podcast host. I was honored to be on the show, especially after listening and learning so much from past episodes. I owe Diego a real debt of gratitude for the amazing archive of shows he has compiled, and I constantly refer aspiring farmers to his site. Diego's insightful questions helped me to go back and think over our whole business, and having to explain it all to someone else help clarify the business in my own mind. I hope you enjoy the show, and if this is your first time listening, definitely check out his impressive list of past shows.
Listen to the Show here
My comments on the interview:
A few more thoughts on Diego's question of why I wanted to farm in the first place:
A huge part of it was that I wanted to follow my own dreams and forge my own path. I hated the idea of getting a job and working for someone else. I wanted a platform for creativity, and a farm sounded like the right place for that. This was something Deirdre and I really connected over -- we did NOT want to live life the conventional way. Not that we think it's wrong to do it that way, but we felt called to do something different. We both preferred putting up with the hardships and relative financial insecurity of getting a farm off the ground, to going and spending our hours working a job we weren't passionate about. We see our farm and farm business as a springboard for all kinds of ideas and plans, most of which are still in the incubation stage.
Also, something I didn't mention explicitly in the episode was the family aspect: we wanted to raise our kids on a farm. We wanted them to grow up with that lifestyle, and learn a good work ethic, and be connected with nature. A farm sounded like the natural place to cultivate those values. When we were kids, we both pined for a farm-style life, and now we want to create it and hand it to our children. Of course, we want to offer it with humility, and we will let them choose their own paths in life. But I really hope at least one of them catches the "farming bug" like we did.
Further thoughts on why I volunteered for free on a farm for several months straight.
Joel Salatin says in numerous places that anybody who is truly willing work will always be able to find a job. On page 44 of You Can Farm, he challenges anyone who says they want to farm to go out and work for a farmer for free. He asks whether you want to do that more than watch movies and hang out at the mall. If you don't want to do that, you probably son't have the desire to see it through on a farm.
When I volunteered, there were multiple motives. One obvious motive I mention in the show is that I wanted experience. But another motive was that I wanted to put myself in a place where I knew opportunity was bound to come up. I think this is key, and is a vital step for anyone wanting to start farming. Put yourself out there where opportunities are likely to come your way. Also, I knew, partially thanks to Joel, that if I was willing to work my butt off day in and day out, I would gain two things: stamina / self discipline, and I would stand out from the crowd. Working hard is not just something you do for your boss. Working hard benefits YOU, because you are building habits and virtues that will stay with you wherever you go, and whatever you get paid, if anything. I knew I would need that stamina and virtue on my own farm, so I was more than willing to put in the hours on someone else's farm FOR FREE, because money was not what I was after. Deirdre and I were both working part time, and that covered the bills, which gave me the luxury of being able to volunteer three mornings a week of my time.
Just as important though, was making myself stand out from the crowd. I made a goal that I was going to push myself to the limit, and show the farmer that I was more serious than the rest of the crew. I tried to weed faster, harvest faster, show up early, stay late, offer to come on other days etc... I knew that if I did that, opportunities would be more likely to come my way. I didn't know what they would be at the time, but multiple opportunities did arise as a direct or indirect consequence of my volunteer time.
Further thoughts on a loyal customer base:
I mention in the episode that while starting the webstore, the most valuable component we were building was the customer base. Our customers are just AWESOME, and Deirdre and I have a real relationship with them that most businesses don't get. Having that personal touch not only makes the whole exchange far more pleasant, but it has even come back to benefit us financially too.
One amazing example from earlier this year:
We needed to borrow around $6000 this past spring for production expenses. We had just gotten a big increase in customers for the webstore, so we needed to buy a lot more packing bins for delivering orders. On top of that, we needed to get lots of plants in the ground, including our summer stuff like tomatoes, eggplant and squash. We needed to buy fertilizer, seeds, compost, and other supplies. We turned to our customers, and asked them if any were willing to pre-pay us for webstore credit, which they could redeem weekly as the season went on. Within 2 weeks, we had $6000 sent to us, and we never had to knock on a bank door. No interest, no forms, nothing but friends coming through for us. It warmed our hearts, and you better believe that when we get really successful as this, those customers are getting a special thank-you. Their money went straight into local production in their own community, and we were spared the hassle of getting a loan. We were able to pay them back over time with product, rather than cash! Incredible. And it was only possible because our customers knew us personally, and trusted us with their money up-front.
Regarding our software choices:
I didn't mention this on the show, but we have been considering lately using a more standard web store service, rather than one of those ones tailored to small farmers like Member Assembler or Farmigo. The main reason is that most of the "farm-specific" features are catered toward a CSA farmer. We started out with a CSA side of our business, but are leaning more and more toward a more "store" based business. We are beginning to think that a standard store host like Shopify might serve our needs better, but that remains to be seen. More on that later! ...
A few changes to how we run the store:
Even in the few months since recording the show, we have switched gears on a few things in the store. We got a third driver, so I am doing very little of the actual deliveries myself. Eventually, I don't want to do it at all, because I think my time could be better spent on other aspects of the business, and on the farm itself.
We also no longer use the spreadsheet system I mentioned. Having switched the way we pack orders, that spreadsheet is no longer necessary -- a great benefit to that system over and above the other improvements I mentioned in the show.
We also no longer go to the Tuesday Farmers market to buy product, and we don't pack at night any more. Both were a huge stress on me and the whole family and crew. We didn't finish some evenings until 10 pm, and that was after being up at 5:00 am to start. As the number of orders grew, it became harder and harder to pull my cart through the busy market to collect items. The market's afternoon schedule was what required us to pack at night, and if I was delayed at all at the market, or in traffic coming home, the whole evening got pushed back. Very stressful!
NOW, we only pick up directly from farms, and that is a lot faster. We also start picking up items on Monday, and store them in our home-built walk in cooler over night, to take some of Tuesday's work off our shoulders a day early. The downside is that I have to order more items by the case, which can be tricky sometimes, and I also had to drop a few items we were carrying. It's not perfect, but for the time being at least, it's a way better system for us. If we get burned out doing it, the whole business will suffer.
I may come back later with more after-thoughts, but that's it for now. Enjoy the show, and check back next week for part 2.
Here's the show link again
I love it when I can do jobs with my kids that they can actually help with!