Sogn Farm Project

Fourth Harvest

By Bob | August 24, 2020 |

A gorgeous campfire under the stars with juicy conversation followed by a lovely morning’s harvest. Thank you (L-R) Roger Cuthbertson, Luca Gunther, Andy and Caroline Vaaler. This harvest was the perfect quantity for the Joyce Uptown Food Shelf (which happens to be around the corner from our volunteer corn pickers’ neighborhood!). Thank you, one and all.

Volunteer Corn Pickers – August 21st, 2020

One distressed corn stalk

Reality Check

By Bob | August 20, 2020 |

What happens when corn gets hit by powerful winds? Just take a look. These photos were taken a week and a half after a violent thunderstorm passed through our farm.

Corn blow down

Corn stalks literally knocked sideways by the wind.

What will this mean for the harvest? Though the younger stalks in later plantings have curved themselves upright, the older stalks from the first succession, especially those with heavy, nearly developed ears can’t do that so we’re losing a lot. We’re still planning to pick tomorrow – we’ll get as much as we can from the first planting but it likely won’t be a lot. Going forward I hope the second and third plantings will recover. We shall see . . .

One distressed corn stalk

This corn stalk has been knocked nearly to the ground.

Second Harvest

By Bob | August 19, 2020 |

Volunteer Corn Pickers with corn

Three pods of volunteers picked corn for the Camden Promise food bank.


Thanks to (L-R) Ann Iijima, Oscar (holding Mona), Lauren and Evra Brooks, Smack, Addie Rosenwinkeland Julie who picked corn for the Camden Promise Food Bank in North Minneapolis. It ws a lovely morning for the harvest but the damage from Sunday night’s huge storm was evident and the harvest was much smaller than Monday’s. None the less, the corn was very welcome in North Minneapolis. Thank you, one and all!

First Harvest

By Bob | August 11, 2020 |

Monday morning this intrepid group picked the first corn of our season: nearly 1,000 pounds, which was delivered to Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester. Thanks to (L to R) Sarah Purdy, the Sloo family (Ayva, Myranda, Mindy and Mark), Smack, Julie and Sarah and Ida York. In a little over an hour this crew completed the first pass through the first planting.

Thank you all!

Straight line winds

By Bob | August 11, 2020 |

Sunday night we had an epic thunderstorm with some of the most violent winds I’ve ever seen. In the morning I found the corn had been knocked sideways – most of the stalks were standing at a 45 degree angle. I worried “What will this mean for the harvest?”

Update, Wednesday August 12th. Turns out corn wants to grow straight up and down. Look at how this cornstalk bent to stand upright. They all did. Mother nature is amazing!

This corn stalk has straightened itself to grow upright after being knocked down by straight line winds.

Bob’s Foodshelf Project

By Bob | July 31, 2020 |

As spring 2020 approached, the outbreak of Covid-19 was on everyone’s mind. Thinking ahead to this year’s farm season and the likelihood of the pandemic affecting food supplies, we decided to dedicate a portion of the farm’s acreage to growing food for distribution by foodhselves. Second Harvest Heartland in the Twin Cities and Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester agreed to help with distribution and Dana Jokela of Sogn Valley Farm agreed to help with machine work and planning. So I bought organic corn seed and squash plants, we worked up the field and planted in May and June. Now The Land Stewardship Project has agreed to act as fiscal agent for the project so anyone who’d like to donate funds to pay Sogn Valley Farm for their labor and use of their machinery can do so tax-deductibly (is that a word?).

If you’d like to join the effort by donating, you visit this GoFundMe page. Donations are tax-deductible.

Soon it will be time to gather volunteers to harvest corn – but more about that soon.

Wassail!

By Bob | February 24, 2019 |

With instruction from our mates Tim and Lesley Brooks in the UK (see photo below), we wassailed our apple trees this year. A cold-hardy group gathered at the farm in January (near the time of “Old Christmas” in the UK). We had a potluck feast then performed the Wassail ceremony with hard cider, recitations, song and loud noises. This was followed by a grand bonfire and then fiddle tunes around the wood stove. Here’s hoping the tradition will well serve our apple trees!

Wassail Bonfire, 2019

Wassail Tunes, 2019

Tim and Lesley Brooks Wassail their mighty apple tree, Abbots Langley, UK, January 2019

Berm 1 Trees and Shrubs, September 2015

By Bob | September 15, 2015 |

Most are doing well, a few have failed. Also in the mix are chives and daffodils, but exact locations not noted. At the moment it looks like another 19 trees and 13 shrubs to complete the berm next spring . . .
Here’s the current listing, east to west. Shrubs in italics.

[Planted 2015]

Rhubarb
Apple: Roxbury Russet
Elderberry
Apple: Cox’s Pippin
Elderberry
Cherry: Gisella – Black Gold
Elderberry
Cherry: Gisella – Black Gold
Elderberry
Pear: Aurora
Elderberry
Pear: Potomac
Elderberry
Pear: Harrow Sweet
Elderberry

[Planted 2014]

Apple: Snow Sweet
Currant
Apple: Honeycrisp
Currant
Apple: Haralson(?)
Elderberry
Plum: American
Currant
Plum: Mount Royal
Elderberry
Plum: Pipestone
Serviceberry (bush)
Currant
[Needed: Tree: Serviceberry]
Currant
Serviceberry (bush)
Cherry: Evans Bali
Currant
Cherry: Northstar
[needed: shrub]
Cherry: Mesabi
Elderberry

[Planted 2015]

Apple: Enterprise
Elderberry
[failed: Apple: Cox’s Pippin]
Elderberry
Apple: Roxbury Russet
[shrub]
[failed: Pear: Aurora]
[shrub]
Pear: Potomac
Elderberry
Pear: Harrow Sweet
Elderberry
Apple: Enterprise
Elderberry
Apple: Goldrush
[shrub]
Apple: Pristine
Elderberry
Apple: Goldrush
[shrub]
Last Stretch:
[tree]
[shrub]
[tree]
[shrub]
[tree]
[shrub]
[tree]
Currant
[tree]
Elderberry
[tree]
[shrub]
[tree]
Elderberry
[tree]
[shrub]
[tree]
[shrub]
[tree]
Elderberry
[tree]
Raspberry
[tree]
Raspberry
[tree]
Raspberry
[tree]
[shrub]
[tree]
[shrub]
[tree]
[shrub]
[tree]

 

Farm Finance and Resilience – Musharakah part 1

By Bob | September 6, 2015 |

I keep hearing that “Access to Land” is a key challenge for folks who want to do well by the soil. That the high cost of farmland and the consolidation of farms into mega-operations over the last few decades make it really difficult for younger farmers especially, to get onto the land and employ practices that care for the land, build resilience and sequester carbon.

So we bought a farm.

We bought it, in part, to be a sort of sandbox to work on the problem of land access for diversified, small (family) scale, sustainable agriculture. And the learning continues.
For several years now when not engaged in keyline projects or just getting the infrastructure repaired, I’ve been exploring farm finance options. In the course of that I came across the word “musharakah” which denotes a practice in Islamic finance used for large purchases – in fact, in the USA more than 2 billion dollars worth of homes have been financed this way. What I have learned so far intrigues me and may offer a pathway to land access with key differences from conventional financing.

What is musharakah? As I understand it, musharakah is a specialized form of partnership in which someone with capital partners with someone with energy in order to establish a joint enterprise. There are several variations on this in Islamic finance, but the one that intrigues me is often termed Declining Musharakah. The key feature of this form is that the intent of the partnership is the long-term transfer of ownership from the partner with capital (who I’ll call the funder from here on) to the partner with expertise (the farmer).

How it works: A musharakah is a partnership established between two (or more?) individuals who agree to enter into business together with joint ownership. Importantly, in a declining musharakah partnership the ownership is unequal and changes over time. Initially the funder puts up most of the capital and owns most of the business. For example if the partnership buys a farm for $100,000 and the funder provides $95,000 and the farmer provides $5,000 – then the funder owns 95% of the business and the farmer 5%. The purpose of a declining musharakah is for those percentages to change so that the farmer eventually owns 100%. To accomplish this, the partners agree that the asset (farm) has a rent value, for example $1000 per year. This rent is to be paid by the user of the asset (the farmer) to the partnership which then distributes it according to the ownership percentage: initially $950 to the funder and $50 to the farmer. Should the farmer earn more than the rent, that is hers to keep – or to use to purchase from the funder an additional percentage of the farm. The key concept here is that over time the farmer is expected to purchase additional ownership from the funder whose ownership interest in the farm declines over time thus this is a ‘declining musharakah’.

For me, one of the key features of this concept is the understanding that the value of the asset may change over time and that ownership is always a percentage of the value at any point in time. If there has been a substantial change in value for reasons external or internal then the price of any percentage changes accordingly (details in a later post). This means that both partners have a powerful concern for the value of the farm which makes this approach radically different from conventional finance in that the goals of the farmer and investor are aligned rather than in opposition. By and large, conventional banks want their interest and how you get the money to pay that isn’t their concern. You can exhaust the soil, pour it full of chemicals, do whatever – they don’t care as long as they get paid. But in musharakah both parties have a stake in the value and stewardship of the farm and incentive to care for and, if possible, improve it.

This notion of value changing over time is, to me, important in another way. It appears to me (and to every banker I’ve asked) that the problems that led to 2008 have not really been fixed, i.e. there continues to be enormous systemic risk in the global financial system. Some other event – probably different but certainly negative – is in our collective future. What it will look like and when it will happen I can’t predict, but thinking in Transition terms, I want my nest egg to be resilient in order to survive whatever the next event turns out to be. If I share ownership in my farm with a farmer and the real estate market crashes – or skyrockets – I don’t really care. I have an ownership interest in a productive asset that could be valued in dollars, euros, cowrie shells or bushels of wheat. The intrinsic value of the asset remains regardless of the market, interest rates, currency devaluations, inflation, deflation or whatever.

So that’s a quick overview of some of what I’ve learnt about musharakah. I am unaware of this being used for agricultural finance in the USA, but it seems like an idea with an existing body of practice (the 2 billion dollars worth of homes in the USA!) and enormous potential.

All questions and comments welcome!

 

Keyline Path Phase I – Complete!

By Bob | August 21, 2015 |

Thanks to awesome efforts by Lolo and his friend Joey, the first phase of the Keyline path project is complete (they did the section in blue show in this post). Doris (the UTV) can now run the entire length of the path providing access for managing the woods and upper prairie area, mushroom hunting and perhaps critter management in the future. Thanks, guys!

Lolo working on the keyline drive.

Lolo working on the keyline drive.

Joey working on the keyline path.

Joey working on the keyline path.