Category Archives: Farming

Introducing the Word of Mouth Market

The Word of Mouth Market is now open for business!

The Word of Mouth Market is now open for business!

First some rumor control: While it is true that I have given notice and will be moving my Genesee Graphics business out of its current location by the end of the month, I am not going out of business! I have been looking for a better location for the past 6 months, and am currently talking to one local landlord about a possible Main Street location. If that doesn’t work out, I may temporarily run the business from home until I find the right location.

The reason I need a new location is that I want to combine a farm market in the same location with the graphics business and therefore need a more visible and accessible location. I have planted around three acres of vegetables this spring and that is a lot more than I can eat myself! By combining the businesses I can save on labor costs by having one person supervise both operations.

I am not a big fan of self-service farm markets having tried that route with Strong’s World of Pumpkins in Caledonia for many years. Although 99% of people are honest and many will overpay for their produce, such operations inevitably attract thieves who will figure out a way to break into or carry off your money box. No fun!

In the mean time, however, since the early crops are coming in, I have opened a small self-service stand on the farm. (See picture.)  The “Word of Mouth Market” will not be publicly advertised other than through this column, Facebook and e-mail. I am not looking to do a high volume business at this location for obvious reasons.

If you have heard about the market from any of these sources, or by word of mouth, you are welcome to come down the driveway and check it out. Currently we have some tasty snow peas, a good selection of lettuce and greens and some of Miss Amy’s flowers at reasonable prices. All produce has been grown without chemical herbicides or pesticides, although I have not registered as an official organic farm. (See my previous column for a discussion of that.) I have also installed a small refrigerator to keep some of the tender produce cool until you get there.

Enjoy!

P.S. Thanks to my daughter Corinna for the fancy sign!

Free Soil Farm

A few weeks ago, I introduced the Free Soil Community Garden by offering 7 free garden plots to members of the community. Six of those plots were taken and have been planted by local families and I took one back to make room for my own asparagus patch and some edamame.

Now a little more about what is going on outside the garden fence. I have decided to call my new farming venture “Free Soil Farm.” As mentioned in the previous column, this is a hat tip to General Wadsworth, who built the Hartford House in 1835 and was one of the founders of the Free Soil Party in the 1840s.

The Free Soil Party was adamantly opposed to the expansion of slavery into the western states and their candidates ran under the banner,  “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men.” After putting up 3rd party candidates for President in 1848 and 1852, they merged into the newly formed Republican Party in 1854.

Of course there is another meaning to Free Soil and one that is probably more important to those of you who I hope will someday soon be eating some of our produce. It is my goal to make the soil of my farm as free as possible of agricultural chemicals.

This is not to say that my farm will be certified organic, at least not in the first few years. Organic certification is a state-regulated designation that prohibits a laundry list of chemical herbicides and pesticides as well as most manufactured fertilizers. Having farmed commercially before, I know just how hard it may be to produce a decent crop under such restrictions, especially on an old pasture that to my knowledge has never been farmed.

That is not to say I have been busy dosing the land with chemicals. The bulk of the 5 acres that has fallen to the plow so far has not seen any herbicide. I did spray one acre of the grass with a generic version of Roundup just to hedge my bets, but that land is only going into a cover crop this year.

For the time being, I will try to make due with mechanical cultivation to keep the weeds at bay. To that end I have recently purchased a new Kovar tine cultivator and a used Lilliston rolling cultivator. I only bought new, because the tine cultivator is a rather new adaption of the old spring harrow concept and there are just not many used units around.

The Lilliston, which features gangs of rolling “spyders”, has been around for decades in conventional agriculture, however, that tool as well as most mechanical cultivators are being used less on conventional farms because of the growing trend to incorporate herbicide-resistant genes into crop seeds.

For that reason, I was able to buy a 6-row unit, which probably originally retailed for over $10,000, for just $450. Of course that unit was in Michigan, but even with $500 of trucking it is still a bargain. No, I am not planning to use a 6-row planter (please shoot me if start thinking big again!) The plan is to break the unit up into three 2-row cultivators. That way I can have different configurations for different crops without having to constantly readjust the rig.

I am not a true believer on the evils of conventional fertilizers either. I know some organic farmers go to great pains to only used “approved” sources for their NPK. In my view nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus are all natural elements, and with my soil test results showing large deficiencies, I will take the cheapest source I can find.

I do plan to make full use of my locally-available manure supply to cook up some mean compost, however, that is a long-term project. In the meantime, I want to have decent yields, so I have supplemented the manure with conventional fertilizers. Note: This does not apply to the garden area which has seen only natural compost and lime.

According the National Organic Farming laws and regulations, land must be kept clear of all banned herbicides and fertilizers for two years before it can be certified organic. That means the earliest I could certify the Free Soil Farm would be 2012. We’ll see…

Highway robbery!

gateThis is going to be embarrassing, but I did something real stupid yesterday, and that’s not the worst thing. Somebody else took advantage of my stupidity and did something wrong, and I hope by telling my story I can get some help righting that wrong.

It’s kind of a long story, but the bottom line is I had a bunch of tools in a large bucket in the back of my pick-up truck. I had been working on various projects around the farm, including building a gate for my garden, so it just seemed like a good idea to have all my tools in one place instead of rolling around in the bed of the pick-up.

Unfortunately, since I do not have electricity near the garden, I had taken my battery-powered drill and sawzall out to work on the gate and they were in the bucket. After finishing hanging the gate, I headed up to Geneseo Hardware to pick up a rototiller I was renting for the day. Stupidly I left the tailgate open and you can probably guess what happened next.

When I got back home and unloaded the rototiller, I realized with horror that my bucket of tools was gone. I quickly retraced my steps and found my smashed bucket and a bag of nails along side the road on Rt. 20A near Elm Street in the village, Apparently, the bucket had slip off the back of the truck as I went up the hill on South Street.

A thorough search of the area turned up my tape measure and a tractor pin, but missing was over $200 of tools. In addition to the portable power equipment, I had a large hammer and various wrenches and other hand tools. Apparently, somebody found these tools along the road and figured they were free for the taking.

This being Geneseo, I had hope that somebody would turn them in to the police as obviously lost property, but when I went to the village police office, no such luck. Since this all happened in broad daylight on the busiest road in town, I’ve got to believe that somebody saw something.

I am offering a $50 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to the return of my property. The power tools won’t do anybody much good when the batteries run down, unless they happen to have the right charger to recharge them, which is unlikely.

I know it was stupid not to close the tailgate, but I am also disappointed that someone apparently took advantage of my stupidity. That’s not supposed to happen in a small town, although of course, Geneseo is not such a small town anymore.

So I’m putting the word on the street: If you saw anything on Rt. 20A around 2 pm on Monday May 11, please give ma a call at 233-5338. Thanks!

Come to the Free Soil Party!

Editor’s note: If you are looking for the column or updates about Vera Gleason, please follow this link.

garden

Free Garden Plots available! Seven Four* 100 square foot garden plots are available to the community for immediate planting at the Hartford House in Geneseo. The plots are protected by a 6-foot, welded-wire deer fence. They have been roto-tilled, limed and fertilized with organic compost only. Soil test results of this Ovid silt loam are available. Irrigation with village water available on a barter basis.
Experienced gardeners preferred.
* Hurry! Three plots have already been taken! Call Biff at 233-5338 or e-mail him.
Limit one plot per family.

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Visitors to the Hartford House this spring have noticed that change is in the air. A collection of vintage farm equipment is taking shape and four acres of the old sheep pasture east of the main driveway has been plowed up.

Part of the old pasture has also been enclosed with a 6 foot fence, but it is not, as some have thought, a new tennis court under construction. It is a deer fence intended to keep four-legged predators away from the juicy vegetables that are already growing in a new vegetable garden.

This is the first season for what owner Corrin Strong hopes will some day become a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm. Corrin has over 15 years of commercial farming experience, operating a 600-acre grain farm in Caledonia from 1976-1992. This time around, he’s starting on a smaller, but more intensive, scale.

Outside the fence, he hopes to grow a few acres of sweet corn and pumpkins , however, the bulk of the land will be sown in cover crops to increase the soil’s fertility and tilth. A compost pile incorporating the manure from neighboring Big House Stables as well as grass clippings and other organic waste from the Hartford House will soon be underway.

Corrin is offering free 1oo square foot garden plots to local families. (See Ad above.) The offer is being made through this blog, by e-mail to members of the Genesee Volley Tennis Club and will be posted on Facebook. He hopes that those who take up the offer will form the nucleus of the board of directors of the future CSA. Experience gathered in this first trial season will help make better crops in the future!

Come grow with us!

P.S. The Hartford House was built by Gen. James S. Wadsworth in 1835. The General was one of the founders of the Free Soil party in New York. That party opposed the expansion of slavery and eventually merged into the newly formed Republican Party prior to the Civil War in which the General gave his life.

Into the Heartland

Having grown up on the East Coast, I never thought too much about Ohio. It was just another of those big Midwestern farm states that you have to drive through to get across the country.

Even after living in western New York for 30 years I still didn’t think much about Ohio except to wonder why some people would drive all the way out to Cleveland to see a football game. All that changed two years ago when my son decided to go to college at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.

In the past two years I’ve been to Ohio 8 times: Two college tours, four sporting events, once as an election volunteer for John McCain, and one camping trip. Along the way, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for a state that is truly a microcosm of America. It’s not for nothing that two of the last three national elections have been decided in Ohio.

This past weekend’s four day trip to Ohio, was part pleasure and part business. For the pleasure part, my son and I attended the first two rounds of the NCAA March Madness in Dayton. That was a total of 6 mostly great basketball games played on Friday and Sunday, including the early-Saturday-morning, double-overtime victory of little Siena College over giant Ohio State, much to the chagrin of Buckeye fans.

On the off day, Saturday, I took care of my business by traveling about 100 miles north of Springfield to pick up a piece of farm equipment from the Buckeye Tractor Co. in tiny Columbus Grove, Ohio. The piece I was after is a bed shaper which I hope will make my somewhat heavy and damp soils here on the home farm more manageable.

Bed shapers are a very specialized piece of equipment that vegetable and flower growers use, and they are hard to find hereabouts. It was only because of Buckeye Tractor’s excellent web site that I discovered their line of tools. I was impressed by the thoroughness and the quality of the writing on the site which was a big cut above what you normally find.

My first phone conversation with owner Lynn Graham left me with the feeling that I would be dealing with a business I could trust, and I was probably most impressed when he told me that my out-of-state personal check would be just fine for me to pick up and cart off a $2,000 machine. There aren’t many who still do business like that!

Since I was in no particular hurry Saturday, I got off the Interstates and took a leisurely route through the small towns and countryside of north central Ohio. The area looks a lot like western New York except flatter and it has (or had) a lot more manufacturing. Every little burg seemed to have a little industrial park on one or both ends of town, although a lot of the businesses were closed.

Accordingly, the once proud small towns themselves were suffering as well. There were many vacant storefronts on Main Streets, many houses for sale, and most of the homes looked like they hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in over 20 years.

A great part of this is no doubt due to the area’s dependence on the automotive industry. When we think autos we usually think just about Detroit and Michigan, but as shown on this map, the real rust belt actually takes in a large swath of northern Ohio and Indiana as well. Hint: To really see this, click on the filter on the left side of the map that shows manufacturing centers. (Shoutout: Thanks to my FB Buddy Ben DeGeorge for the link!)

Despite all the doom and gloom in the auto industry, however, business is booming at the Buckeye Tractor Co. The growing Back to the Land for local food movement is helping a lot. From the professional look of the web site, you might expect to find a bustling corporate factory with hundreds of workers, but in fact, Buckeye is a small family operation based on a farm with only about a dozen employees.

Being a quiet Saturday, I had the pleasure of spending some time with the owner in a far-ranging conversation on the state of the world. Four hours later I realized that I better get the implement loaded and head back to Springfield or I would miss buying dinner for my son and his college friends. Without that obligation, I probably could have talked another four hours!

Over dinner, I told some of the Ohio kids about my growing respect for the Heartland. In the Heartland you can still feel the greatness of America. And Ohio, more than any other state, except possibly Texas, seems like a country of its own.

From it’s sprawling farms to the gleaming office parks and commercial palaces that line the Beltways around Cleveland, the state seems to have everything. But most importantly, it still has the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of little Buckeye Tractor Co. figuring out how to make a product right here in America, good enough and priced right so that somebody would drive across two states to get it and leave happy!

There is still hope in America, but it’s not coming out of Washington, D.C..

Hartford House Subdivision

The three words in the title above are likely to spark fear in many traditional Geneseo minds and wild rumors around the county. Yes, I have applied to the Village Planning Board to divide my 70 acre estate into three parcels, but don’t expect to see any major developments going up, other than the addition of some more tennis courts at the Genesee Volley Tennis Club.

For one thing, a conservation easement placed on the land by my parents prevents me from building more than one additional house on the bulk of the estate. Even though I could develop the 7.7 acre area near the Gate House (Called Lot 1 in the subdivision plan), my financial position is not yet so bad that I am forced to consider that.

The main motivation for my action is to clear the way for the continued growth of the tennis club I founded last year when I built one Har-Tru (clay) court. The club had a very good first year and already has over 50 playing members. As the club grows we will soon surpass the playing capacity of one court and I can’t afford to build more Har-Tru courts on my own.

The main idea of the subdivision is to provide collateral so that expansion of the club can be financed without involving the rest of the estate. A 7.5-acre parcel (Lot 3) has been carved out of the north end of my property (bordering my sister Susan’s part of the original estate) for future development of the club. This would be sufficient to provide for at least 7 additional courts if the demand would ever require that.

The area in Lot 3 is also the area designated by the conservation easement for my lone additional house, so if everything goes south, and the club goes bust, it could be sold as a single family home site. To make that more practical (and thus better collateral), the lot contains access to Avon Road opposite the former Balconi car dealership so it would not be landlocked. Again there are no immediate plans to construct a driveway there, but it could be done in the future if needed.

A secondary reason for this move is to make the growth of the club less of a insurance risk to me personally. Even though the club has been formed as a not-for-profit corporation and I lease the court area to the corporation, and even though the corporation carries liability insurance and has agreed to hold me harmless, the fact that the court is on the same parcel as my home and the only access is across my land apparently raises concerns among insurance underwriters. These concerns recently led to my personal umbrella coverage being canceled which is a situation I am not very comfortable with.

Finally, this move would allow the remaining 56 acres of my land (Lot 2) to be included in an Ag district. That jives with my plan to return to small-scale farming this spring. I have purchased a small 50 horsepower John Deere, a two bottom plow, a two-row cornplanter and a 72″ pto rototiller in preparation for growing about 5 acres of vegetables. This will be nothing like the 600+ acres operation I ran in Caledonia in the 1980s, but I hope to put my farming experience to good use making a profit this time.

Being in an official Ag district provides many protections for farming operations under state law and guarantees the right to farm, even in a village. In order to be approved for that I have to apply to the county in September, and I can’t have any non-agricultural activities on the same parcel.

This does not necessarily mean I will apply for or receive an Agricultural Exemption on my property taxes. I don’t think the Assessor is hitting me too bad on my vacant land right now, although my total assessment of $660,000 is no doubt among the highest in the village for a single-family home. If this goes through, though, I will get a separate tax bill for the tennis club which I can pass along to the club.

So there you have it. There are no other secret agendas, although I don’t expect everybody to believe that. I’ve always been served well by the advice that I got when I first came to town almost 40 years ago: “In Geneseo, people don’t care what you do, as long as they know about it!” If you want to know more, you are welcome to attend the next meeting of the planning board on Feb. 25 at 4 pm. I am on the agenda and it is a public meeting. In the meantime here is the concept map of my plan.

Looking for a two-row corn planter

In March of 2007, when I announced the closing of my newspaper and the beginning of this blog, I posted my first online column on “Life after Newspapering.” In that, I listed 10 possible things I might become involved in after my retirement.

Looking back, I see that some of those predictions have become true. I certainly did build a tennis court and take another run at public office. On the other hand, I have cut back on my volunteer activities and I have not traveled as much as I would have liked. The most accurate prediction I made, however, was #10, “The unexpected.”

Little did I imagine two years ago that a return to farming would be in my future, however, that seems to be where I am heading. (For those who don’t know, I farmed in Caledonia from 1977-1992, eventually working myself up to over 600 acres of cash crops before being put out of business by a combination of disastrous weather and chronic low prices.)

No, it is not high grain prices that are tempting me back. This time I plan to approach farming from the other end of the spectrum. I want to be a small-scale vegetable and truck farmer. I have 75 acres here in Geneseo, and even reserving another 5 for future tennis club development, that still leaves plenty of room for veggies and maybe a few flowers.

All of which brings me to the title of this piece. Time was (when I had a weekly readership in the thousands) that I could put the word on the street in my newspaper column and within a few days I would get what I was looking for. Now that my readership is reduced to about 100 blog readers a week and 50 Facebook friends, it may be more difficult but I’m giving it a try.

I am looking for a two-row corn planter, preferably of the John Deere variety, but definitely one that has a fertilizer bin. Although I expect to build up the organic strength of my soil with my own homegrown mulch eventually, I learned enough from my first time around to know that going totally organic is not easy, and unlike the last time, I want this to be a profitable venture!

Ironically, I did own an old JD two-row corn planter for many years. Since it has been 16 years since my auction, however, I couldn’t quite remember whether I sold it in 1993 when I quit farming. A search of the old farm turned up another mystery. I found pieces of my two-row planter completely disassembled in an old barn!

I have a very vague recollection of wanting to use the frame and the undercarriage for some other purpose, but I can’t remember exactly what, and it appears to be long gone. That was probably not one of my best decision, because nowadays a fully functioning planter of that vintage can bring from $500 to $1,000. It seems that I am not the only person going back to the land on a small scale!

In any case, if you know of another old planter gathering dust in a barn somewhere, let me know. If it’s a John Deere, we might just have enough pieces between us to make it work.