Sogn Farm Project
This week another milestone in our farm project was passed: the culvert for crossing the creek is now complete. This will make all the difference in the world to the function of the farm as the largest fields and hillside are now easily accessible from the farmyard.
Remember the heaps of rubble? Remember all the fallen trees and logs in the creekbed? Remember the overgrown jungle by the creekside? How about the falling-down pole shed? I do. And I’m grateful for all the effort that went into clearing all that up so the culvert work could be done and . . . just look at it now.
As I walked the farm today I felt such gratitude for the amazing community which has helped us bring things so far. While walking, I talked with my farmer friend Kate Stout of North Creek Community Farmwho asked me what was our greatest success this year. I answered that the involvement, connection and fun of bringing together folks from our multiple communities had been the most satisfying part of the whole project – as indeed it has. Thank you to everyone who has made all this progress possible. The building, the culvert, the junk removed, the old barn cleaned and repaired – the list is astonishing.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I many reasons to be thankful including, especially, the unfolding dream of this farm.
I’m thinking about next year.
If you’ve been down to visit you may have noticed that our tillable acreage naturally falls into four or five fields as you can see in the aerial photo below. At the moment all but the smallest field are in alfalfa – good for organic transition. It’s now been over a year since prohibited chemicals were applied to the land but it will take two more seasons before we can attempt organic certification. We can leave the fields in alfalfa and take several cuttings of hay each year . . .
. . . or maybe try something [what might that be?] else.
What will the story of this farm be? What can grow beautifully here? In the next few years I’d like to have a number of experiments running on the land: different folks trying particular crops/approaches to see what works well. This year a Hmong farmer grew corn and squash. At the moment there is one person proposing to start a CSA on a portion of the land next year. My neighbor to the north has a vineyard and winery. He wants me to grow hops (and I have to say I’m intrigued by the notion – but it takes a lot of expensive infrastructure). Also on my mind are crops that can be dried for winter use: corn for cornmeal, beans for drying.
The soil is rich and deep with good mineral balance and plenty of organic matter. Should be good for many things (we had a soil test last spring). The tillable portions are identified in the USDA soil survey as Kennebec silt loam, Lindstrom silt loam and McPaul silt loam. You can check it out here (though it takes a few minutes to figure out the system – see below).
So how can we get several projects going? I wonder if there are folks (especially young farmers!) who would like to bring me proposals to take a field or a portion of a field and try something: CSA, hops, small grains, particular veggies – something they really want to do. I can provide the land, access to electricity and water, some on-site storage etc.. I don’t yet have a tractor or equipment, but that may change. With our land and infrastructure and their (your?) ideas and effort perhaps some beautiful thing(s) might grow.
NOTE: To use the USDA system, zoom in to Minnesota, then Goodhue County, then Warsaw township, then the farm by clicking repeatedly on the map – takes me 11 clicks. Once you have the farm filling the window, define an ‘Area of Interest’, AOI using the red polygon AOI tool on the map: click to mark the boundaries, double-click to finish. Then click the “Soil Map” tab on the top and you’ll get the details.
Thanks to Chad and Mike, Emery and Dennis! We have trusses up, a roof, basement stairs and interior walls. With some windows and doors we’ll be able to work on the interior no matter what happens with the weather . . . Up in the woods I’ve nearly completed the snowshoeing/mushroom trail. Also thinking about the next growing season, but more about that in the next post.
What an amazing weekend! In a complex two-day dance, folks from multiple communities came together at the farm to build, sheath and raise all the walls for the new farm office.
My heart was near to bursting as I watched people with different levels of skill, experience and physical strength working together in elegant cooperation: encouraging, respectful and playful. While having fun and enjoying friends old and new, I’m guessing a lot of folks learned things about building, wood, tools and more. Special thanks are due to the more experienced framers and carpenters who patiently helped the rest of us make meaningful contributions. The place glowed with a warm spirit that filled my heart – words can’t capture how it felt. I am enormously fortunate to know so many big-hearted folks and to get to share experiences like this.
Thank you, each and every one not only for the hard work and great results, but even more for the inspiring friendship, spirit, generosity, fun and music you brought to the Sogn Valley this weekend.
Big big thanks to John, Chad and Tracey for getting the sill, rim joists, floor joists and subfloor in in just a day. Wow, do I have skilled, hard-working and talented friends (who are darn good company to boot!).
Time to think about next year. The oats are combined and sold, the straw is in the pole barn (waiting for a customer – anyone need a round bale or 22?) and Tou Pau’s corn is gone though there are still squash and over-ripe cucumbers in his field.
What have I learned so far? The oats/alfalfa plan is a good one for organic transition but not for the long-term: there isn’t enough profit in the crops to pay the rent. The future of this farm needs to include higher value crops – but which ones? I’m intrigued by hops and my grape-growing neighbor is encouraging me, but what else?
I’ve been approached by one individual who’d like to use a portion of the tillable acreage for a CSA. I wonder if anyone else would like to propose something. For next season I need to realize some income from the land but am open to non-cash returns as well. Beyond that whatever happens needs to:
- continue progress towards organic certification and
- add to the knowledge base of the farm: what works, what doesn’t, why?
With 25 tillable acres there is room for more than one project. At the moment I’m thinking that two or three trials might be good with the balance in hay (that’s what the alfalfa’s for).
What are the best next steps for this farm? Pondering . . .
This weekend, everything changed at the farm.
What had been Bob’s project with visits and a little help from family and a few friends began to become part of the life of our communities.
What amazing, generous, talented and hard-working friends we have! Folks from seven to the seventies joined our family at the farm to haul brush, clean out the barn, dig through a miserable trash heap, fill a 20-yard dumpster, do some lumberjacking, move walls and do a million other jobs then have a brew, play some music, enjoy a campfire and eat apples off the trees. If Julie’s count is correct there were 33 adults, 2 teens, 12 kids and 5 dogs.
These friends have blessed this farm and the promise it holds. The vision is still taking shape, but by sharing in the work and fun the whole project begins to find its place in the circles of friendships and communities that so enrich our lives. This is part of the dream: people coming together for work, sure, but for music, fun and connection to each other and the land.
I feel like the luckiest man in the world. Thank you every one.
Sold the oats. Got a check from the co-op. First money I’ve made farming. After paying for the combine and fuel I wonder what’ll remain.
This leads to a simple conclusion: commodity farming when you don’t have (or really want) commodity equipment isn’t practical. That’s OK. I wasn’t really thinking corn and beans on 25 tillable acres. Nope. Gotta go for some higher value products. CSA maybe, perennial fruits, or . . .
But here’s the rub: so far, most of the folks I’ve met who are into smaller-scale sustainable agriculture are thinking 2 to 10 acres – not 55 (or 25 tillable). So where will I find the right farmer who can create a workable, sustainable vision for this farm? I don’t know, but I’m going to keep looking!
At a delightful gathering of young farmers mixer last night, sponsored by Concrete Beet Farmers and The Greenhorns, and hosted by Andy and Betsy at Spring Winds Farm, I got to talk with a number of farmers about my vision for our farm in Sogn. When people asked me about what I’m doing right now, I described my job as doing what I can to make the farm as attractive as possible in order to attract the best possible farmer to the land.
Turns out that for 50 or 60 years the place hasn’t really been a working farm. The tillable acreage has been rented – often for conventional corn and beans – and the rest has been either a dump, escape from the city or just ignored. So my job now is to decide what things need doing to get the place ready to once again be an integrated, working and thriving farm. With only so many hours in the day (and limited brain and muscle power) I need to do a sort of triage to decide how to most effectively spend my time and resources to bring the place to a state that an excellent sustainable farmer will see and say, “I want to be here!”
So far, I’ve got the electricity in, am working on the well, have had tons of rubbish removed, begun organic transition on the tillable acres and begun work on a small farm office, repair of the old barn and creating a creek crossing from the farmyard to the main fields and hillsides. But are these the best choices?
I’d love to hear what others think. What are the most important things to do to prepare this place for successful sustainable agriculture? If you’re a farmer and want to pursue the small-scale, sustainable approach, what would want to see that would make you want to commit to a long-term relationship to this land?
All comments, suggestions and opinions are welcome! Just getting this far I’ve had enormous help from folks at the Land Stewardship Project, the Sustainable Farming Association and many helpful friends. Do you have a thought for me?
BTW, Thanks to the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers for the music, dancing and companionship at the mixer – it was great to have you there!