Spring Has Sprung

Last month the snow melted. Since that first melt, we’ve had a number of smaller snow falls. None of them stuck around longer than around 48 hours, but each one of them has served as a cooling off of our spring fever. Even five years into working around the seasons, your body – like a plant – seems to respond to the hours of daylight and strength of the sun. And so in March, when we had a few days of t-shirt weather, preparing for planting seemed merely weeks away. We had to remind ourselves that our last frost date comes around the May long weekend, and not many things can be put out in the unprotected field before that date.

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Temperatures were getting up to 30 degrees in our cold frame last week.

And so spring fever is alive and well in folks long out of middle school. What has helped cool the fever has been seed starting. This year we have the time and capacity to start a few varieties of our plants without the help of a greenhouse. So far we have started Indigo Rose tomatoes, Purple Beauty sweet peppers, Red Express cabbage, Golden Acres cabbage, La Guardia eggplant, and Lacinato kale, Hilde lettuce and Rouge d’Hiver lettuce, and we’re not finished yet!

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Purple Beauty peppers just over a week old basking under a grow light.

This year we decided to expand the number of shares we sell by about half. This is really exciting for us as we expand our business, do less “volunteer” work, and support more emerging farmers. It’s an exciting challenge for us, and we look forward to engaging more people in fresh, local, organically grown produce. Our CSA family is expanding!

We’re also bringing back our Wolseley delivery, which – due to location – is more of a Wolseley/West Broadway delivery. Last year we encouraged all our sharers to pick up on farm, but we’re spending some money this spring on building a CMU Farm bike trailer, so once again you can have your veggies pedal powered downtown for a one time $75 payment for the season.

At the end of last season, Canadian Mennonite University donated 5 Prairie Sensation apple trees to the CMU Farm. Those will be planted this spring along our northern fence line. This is a great fresh eating apple well suited for our harsh prairie temperatures. Look forward to apples in your share boxes in years to come!

Our final piece of newness this spring is that the CMU Farmers Collective has formalized into the Metanoia Farmers Worker Cooperative Ltd.! We’ll post more about this coming up, but the changes from the outside are minimal. The land at the CMU Farm has always been stewarded by the CMU Farmers Collective, and so the name “CMU Farm” will remain, and it will continue to be the name you see most often. However the CMU Farmers Collective has formalized into a Workers Co-op, and it is us who run the CSA.

Megan, Jonah, Maria, Jeanette - the Metanoia Farmers - promoting the farm at an event this spring.

Megan, Jonah, Maria, Jeanette – the Metanoia Farmers – promoting the farm at an event this spring.

Spring is here! Summer is close behind! The Metanoia Farmers will be at the CMU Farm on a regular basis starting Monday, April 27. Come out to say hello, and maybe even get your hands dirty.

CSA Shares on Sale!

2015 FB PostcardThe days seem to be warming up here in Winnipeg and the CMU Farmers Collective is already thinking about spring, warming soil, and seeds! Part of our order has been placed and we’re just finalizing the rest. We’re grateful for this chance we have to think about spring during the colder months of the year because of the hope it gives us during winter. With that in mind, you should know that we are finally selling shares for the 2015 season at the CMU Farm! Send us an email if you would like to reserve a share or have any questions about our CSA. We’re looking forward to the spring!

Waiting Through Winter

So what does a vegetable CSA Farmer do during the winter? Some of us focus on other jobs, some fall into the rhythm of school with teaching or kids, attention is turned to pet projects, travel plans and the holidays. And while we wait on the seasons to change, leading us in to a new year, there is also work being done behind the scenes. Season evaluation, planning for the new year, and lots of small (and sometimes not so small) projects get done during the off-season to help the CSA run better next year.

This winter we set some goals for the CSA:

1. Firm up greenhouse arraignments with Canadian Mennonite University and Friends of Gardens Manitoba. Friends of Gardens has been instrumental in bringing bright and vigorous energy to this proposal, and it has been wonderful to work with them. Following into 2015 we hope to finalize the agreement between Canadian Mennonite University, the CMU Farm, and Friends of Gardens to move forward with the greenhouse build this season.

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The greenhouse ‘committee’ of CMU, the CMU Farmers Collective, and Friends of Gardens Manitoba working out the details.

2. Enhance our business savvy and organizational structure.  Certainly less flashy than a greenhouse, but no less important.  As we continue to welcome more and more households into share agreements during the growing season, work with new farmers, and partner on building projects this is imperative.

3. Welcome new farmers into the fold. One of our guiding principles and reasons for being a CSA so close to a university has been the desire to be a place where people can come and learn about our work in whatever capacity. This year we are excited to welcome two new farmers into the fold and look forward to this sharing of the work and knowledge. Watch for Jonah and Maria’s bios coming soon!

Along with off-season work, we’ve also participated in some exciting events this fall already.

In November, Jeanette headed to the Food Secure Canada Assembly in Halifax as part of her farmer organizing work with Sharing the Table Manitoba. Here she was able to connect with new and young farmers from across the country as part of the New Farmer Roundtable.

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Breakout sessions with the New Farmer Roundtable

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Meeting keynote speaker Vandana Shiva

 

The Farm also played host to a Seed Saving Harvest Party. Caroline Chartrand invited special guest Winona LaDuke to join us for an evening of seed saving, story telling and volunteer appreciation.

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Winona LaDuke speaking to the assemble seed savers and supporters

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Volunteer appreciation

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Winona LaDuke

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At the CMU Farm around the fire, Steve Heinrichs of Mennonite Church Canada addresses the group.

 

Finally, Megan and Jeanette attended the Small Farms Manitoba conference and CSA Manitoba meetings for a day of learning and networking.

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Small Farms Manitoba conference opening address

 

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Megan interviewing with CTV at the Small Farms Manitoba conference

 

But the winter is almost over and we do always look forward to the spring.

The Growing Garden, Building Projects, and Squash Pollination Anticipation

It has been a long time since we posted, so I hope you’ve been able to keep up with us somewhat on Facebook! As you may guess, the farm is just exploding with growth and has been keeping us farmer types very busy.

Our volunteer lettuces are flowering!

We are presently in the middle of our harvest season and highlights of recent share boxes have included new potatoes, beets, the beginnings of cucumbers and zucchini, and even a few carrots from doing our thinning! Today we were noticing that it will soon be time for beans and maybe even some tomatoes! As everything has its season, we’ve reached the end of the pea harvests but we may experiment with planting a second round of peas to harvest late in the summer or in early fall.

The beet harvest. Look at that lovely colour!

The first of the carrots!

Besides harvests, it has been a season of weeding, watering, and pruning tomatoes. We are experimenting with a new (to us) method of staking our tomatoes that involves hanging twine from wire strung above the beds and then training the tomatoes up the twine as they grow. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of that to show you at the moment but I’ll add some asap. It is interesting how the addition of some vertical structures can really change the look of our fields!

Not only are we maintaining and harvesting at the farm, but we are also building! We finally decided that the time has come to replace our tarp-roofed shade set-up with something a little more permanent that doesn’t hit us on the top of the head when it is windy :)  So, this week, Farmer Kenton and Farmer Emeritus Matt took on a shade producing construction project. Today the metal sheeting went up on the larger half and it is fantastic! Even that half roof gives us a lot more shade than we had before and a much more functional space in which we can bunch vegetables and set up the share pick-up table.

The new shade structure and our Thursday harvest set-up. You can’t tell from this angle, but in person, it almost looks a little like the prow of a ship!

We often have visitors at the farm but this month one of the visitor highlights was an evening at the beginning of July where we were visited by a voluntary simplicity class from the U of W and Mark Burch, an author and expert on voluntary simplicity, for some learning about connection to the land, rhythms of nature, and the “simple” life. It was fun to get them working in the soil and to hear their reflections on what they’ve been learning about in class and how that might connect to what we do here at the farm!

Mark and the voluntary simplicity class in the seed saving circle.

Finally, we’ve got some exciting seed saving coming up! If you are in Winnipeg and interested in learning about pollinating the Cucurbitaceae family (cucumbers, squash, zucchini) for seed saving you should come to one of the pollination workshops being hosted at the farm! Check out the poster below for more details.

Squash pollination workshop poster

We hope you’re having a great summer so far! Feel free to stop by the farm for a visit and see what’s growing!

CSOP, Rain and Patience

Two weeks ago the CMU Farmers partook in a Canadian School of Peacebuilding course led by Norman Wirzba.  As an author and co-author, Wirzba has written on theological perspectives of care for creation and how food sits at the centre of that equation.  We were glad to have him with us for the week, and on the Wednesday were able to travel with the class to Cedar Lane Farm in Neubergthal.  For those of you who have followed our Facebook for awhile, you’ll know that the CMU Farmers like to get out to Cedar Lane Farms at least once a year for a “field trip” so it was great to be able to go again and hear more from Terry and Monique about their farm.

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Terry talks about rotational grazing

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Talking about his new Canadienne cows

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Explaining the learning curve of using horses for farm work

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Class photo at the farm

We’d had some heat before hand, but with the big rains right before and at the beginning of CSOP it ended up being a good time to sit and learn and recharge while the Farm dried out.

At the end of the week, CSOP held its closing program at the Farm, planting squash together as a symbol of the continued work of cultivating peace with the land.  The squash will live on at the Farm and eventually feed those who have committed themselves to the land this season, both farmers and sharers.

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CSOP closing program at the Farm

The weeks following CSOP were overcast and cool.  The forecast called for rain most days, but it always seemed to miss the Farm, keeping us in what seemed like a cold, damp holding pattern.  Seed was having trouble germinating, and things that were up seemed frozen in time.  With the carrots, beets, and parsnips especially we eventually figured so much time had passed, the seed that wasn’t up must have rotted in the ground. We began to contemplate reseeding areas that were bare.  Then slowly, about a week or two ago, we started to see germination.  Carrot rows planted 3 weeks earlier began to germinate, parsnips planted a month previous were coming out of the ground!  Here we had done all this worrying, but things were still emerging!  Exhilaration, exasperation, and stupification I’m sure were felt by all farmers.  It was an interesting combination of feelings and really reinforced how not in control we are of this whole situation – farming is an inherently risky task.  It still remains to be seen what will all emerge, it will take patience.  I imagine with the heat we will hopefully get this weekend we’ll see more things popping up.  And we did have to reseed beets and Swiss chard.

Babying the beet bed

Babying the beet bed

Next in weather news was all the wacky weather over the July long weekend.  Although we didn’t get as much rain as expected at the Farm, paths and other low areas retained pools of water over 24 hours after the rains stopped.  What was more damaging for our plants ended up being the wind.  Tomato plants were bent over and some new bean plants were stripped of their broad leaves.  The row cover flew off the cabbages and many of the onion greens broke or bent over in the wind.  Overall the damage could have been worse, and most everything will recover.  Things that weren’t batted around seemed to enjoy the drink of water and many plants visibly grew over the weekend.

Sitting water in the potatoes

Sitting water in the potatoes

The cold temperatures and stormy weather left us wondering if it would be feasible to start our share boxes this week after all, but after a walk about on the weekend we decided there was enough.  This is the nature of CSA, this is the nature of eating seasonally and locally (factor in local weather patterns!), this is the nature of being connected to land.  And the season has to start at some point.

This week, sharers are getting kale, beet greens, green onions, cilantro, oregano, basil, dill, garlic scapes, peas, and full shares also get a head of lettuce.  For all of this we are grateful!

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First share box pick-up of the season

Seedlings in the greenhouse

Seedlings in the greenhouse

The Farm on the morning of this seasons first share day

The Farm on the morning of this seasons first share day

Post Planting Push

Wow, it has been awhile since our last post!  We have been running like the wind with planting and other projects between then and now and have hopefully not left you feeling too out of the loop.

Our first big accomplishment in that time was finishing the construction of our fence.  It took many work hours and some dedicated volunteer time to finally put it up, but it’s there!  It’s a pretty good looking fence too, and we’ve already witnessed its ability to keep the deer out so we’re excited that it’s doing its job.

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We’ve had two volunteer work days over the past two weeks.  Our first work day we put in all our tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as a bunch of onions.  Our second work day was last Friday, and we got the squash, cabbage, zucchini, and last of the lettuces in which was the LAST of what we had to plant!! There will be succession plantings of things throughout the summer, but this marked the end of the big spring push.  And so the rain this weekend has been an extra blessing for us.  Not so much for the marathoners, jazz festers, or father’s day-ers, but we have quite enjoyed it!

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What a silly spring it seems to have been.  Less than two weeks after our final snow fall we were experiencing temperatures more characteristic of August than May, but then last week was cooler again.  All the heat plus precipitation that always seemed to miss us made for some very dry conditions at the farm.  Our drip irrigation system becomes very valuable to us in these cases.  We have our tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and cabbage on drip irrigation.  Watering can take a surprisingly long time in a space as large as ours, and not only does the drip save us time and labour, but it also helps us use our water resources more efficiently.

You may have heard on the news this spring that flea beetles have been especially frustrating to city gardeners this year.  Apparently the canola crop they normally eat was a few weeks behind, so they went looking for other brassica family plants, which include radishes, kale, cabbage, broccoli, arugula, etc.  So what that meant for us was that as soon as our radishes emerged they were munched.  And despite our best efforts with natural and homemade pesticides (garlic fire-water it was called) in about a week our entire radish crop was destroyed.  It’s a good reminder of how CSA farming works, where the inherent risks of farming are shared between the eater and grower.  And while it’s disappointing to loose an early share box item, it means we work to supplement with other items instead.  The good news is that the cabbages and kale were hardly effected (as transplants they were in our little greenhouse structure and less accessible to the beetles)..

This upcoming week the CMU Farmers are sitting in for parts of a Canadian School of Peacebuilding (CSOP) class entitled Food, Farming and Faith: Living in God’s Creation taught by Norman Wirzba. The course is offered right here at CMU.  We’re looking forward to learning from Wirzba and being reminded again about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of what we do.  So if you swing by the farm this week and don’t see us, that is most likely where we’re at.  We plan to be at the farm Tuesday and Thursday during the day.

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I had to end with this cutie!  We had quite the mice infestation at the beginning of the year so we “loaned” some farm cats from a farmer friend of ours.  Houdini and Menno are brother and sister (above is Menno) and they are very friendly cats!  About two weeks ago Menno took off and we haven’t seen her since.  We’re still hoping she finds her way back to us, and should she be with kittens you might receive an extra surprise in your first share box ;)

Oh, and for those wondering when first share boxes will be available, the jury is still out, but we might be looking at the last week of June or first week in July.  If we get some nice warm weather now after this rain things might suddenly start coming along very quickly.  Either way, we’ll send you an email about a week in advance of the first share boxes.

Putting the “Urban” in Urban Agriculture

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We seem to have done more general contracting work than farming last week, such are the joys of our urban environment. We came to a conclusion about our fencing options and put our plan in motion – purchase our own materials, hire a contractor to install our cedar posts, then rely on the skill and friendship of our community to put up the wire. So last week ‘Larry and the boys’ (contractors Kenton found in the Yellow Pages – not the actual company name) took a day and a half to sight, dig, place, and pack limestone for all 80+ posts around the perimeter of the Farm. Our wildlife fencing (page wire of different sizes) is to come some time this week, and we’ve already heard of some great ideas to make it’s installation more expedient. If you have some spare time, we’ll most likely still need a significant contingent for this portion. Keep an eye on our facebook page for dates (most likely this week, maybe the weekend).

Through the middle, grassy section of the Farm we have some hydro lines that have been important to both the police station and library construction projects, to the west and east of us respectively, so we’ve been working with contractors that need to access them for the last 2 or so years. This week they were around again with 3 huge trucks inside our fence (didn’t realize there space enough to ever do that!). That overlapped some with Larry and the boys for another day and a half of construction. This Friday they’ll be back to finish up one last thing and maybe that will be it for the season. Nice folks, they were. Brought us coffee break!

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Finally, a pile of top soil scraped up from the library site was left for our access. We’ve wanted to build up the south end of our space that’s been plagued with a combination of rocky soil and poor water drainage. So this long weekend we moved and graded what we needed with a skid steer. Turns out the pile contained a lot more clay than we expected, and while the space is now built up, our next task will be to make a few passes with a tiller before it dries to a cement-like consistency. Ah, another soil remediation project.

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On a more positive note, arugula, salad mix, swiss chard, parsnips, carrots, cilantro and spinach are in the ground, extra basil, lettuce and cabbages are succession planted into trays, and in addition to garlic and radishes, our beets and onion sets have made an appearance!