Halftime Snacks

The best part of every soccer game growing up was the halftime snack. Orange slice, granola bar, cookie, whatever it was I wolfed it down and panted a little bit and looked to the team’s fearless leader for advice. I’m halfway through the 2019 growing season and I find myself panting and looking around for my fearless leader–then I remember the fearless leader is me and I think about how fearful my childhood leaders may have also been.

It’s 2019! Which means I started Blue Fingers Farm three years ago, and I’m still growing plants and my business so it looks like I’m here to stay. I’ve got some small news and some big news, listed them in order of importance below.

Blue Fingers Farm Has A New Home

I recently closed on a land purchase. It’s 10 acres of raw land on Gooby Rd; 3 acres of woods and a <5% slope down to 7 acres of southern-aspect pasture. It’s 4 miles from downtown Sandpoint and somehow in my price range, so I’m starting to suspiciously believe in a higher power. I bought it with my boyfriend Steve. One of his childhood dreams is to hand-build a log cabin–my career goal is to own a small farm in Sandpoint, so we held hands and went for it. He is not going to be my business partner or financially dependent on the farm; that’s the way we both prefer it. Lots of work to do before it’s farmable, so I still plan on continuing to rent the Oldtown farm next season (thank you so much, Bill and Patricia Christman), and move permanently to Gooby Rd in spring 2021. I don’t really believe it’s real yet, so if I wake up and this was all a dream, it was a really good one.

Alani Still Likes Farming

A good farmhand is hard to find–especially in a region run by internship and WOOFing labor pools. I am so lucky for mine; she joined last year as a part-time harvester and market hand and stuck around to see Blue Fingers through another spin around the sun. Not only is she an incredibly detail-oriented and hardworking harvester, I can’t believe she still likes hanging out with me. She has her own interests in farming and food preparation…it’s very beautiful watching them grow. If you see her at the market tell her she’s one tough cookie. She’d like that.

Multiple Farmsites, Ahoy

I’m now growing on Sandpoint small farm heritage ground–the original site of Red Wheelbarrow Produce run by the great Emily Levine. I have thoroughly run out of space on my quarter acre in Oldtown, so I am now also growing on a quarter acre on Forrest-Siding Rd. Growing in two places is not ideal, but not impossible. It helps that she left behind so much driptape! Thanks Em.

New Restaurants Featuring Our Custom Greens Mixes

Beet & Basil continues to be the steam powering this engine, thank you to Jessica and her fearsome army of line cooks.  I have been delighted/flattered to start working with Spuds Waterfront Grill, The Fat Pig, and The Pie Hut! I brought my seed catalogs to the chefs to design a custom greens mix that they were excited to work with and I was excited to grow. Each mix is an exclusive offer to just that restaurant; you won’t find them at any other restaurant or wholesale outlet in town. You can, however, find them at my booth at the Sandpoint Farmer’s Market! I credit the restaurant that buys them on the label so you can’t miss them.

Potential Pickling Profits Programmed to Prosper

I’m starting a line of value-added products to sell at the Sandpoint Farmer’s Market. I’ve been practicing fermentation and traditional food preservation techniques for as long as I’ve been farming, and I think it’s time to financially invest in my knowledge and see if Sandpoint bites! Heeeeeeere kitty kitty kitty. Starting August 1st,  come and get your fix of vegetables in their sexiest, probiotic form. I am intellectually, biologically, and dare I say spiritually devoted to lacto-fermentation and I can’t wait to show your tastebuds how beautiful and nutritionally dense local produce can be.

Abandoning Priest Lake

I’m sad to say that I can’t keep up the Priest Lake CSA, sell to 3 new restaurants, grow in two sites, and start a pickle company. I had to pick which would be most efficient for me, and Priest Lake was just too far away to keep commuting to. Please forgive me, Jake Christman, and all of my devoted Priest Lake customers. I can’t thank you enough for your support these last two years. I hear that the Farmer’s Market in Priest Lake has six tents now, and meets every Saturday! I cried when I heard…it used to be just me and Caitlin under a big white tent, watching the cars go by. All my love.

Murphy is Huge, and Doing Fine

The farm dog is alive and well, and stomping on all the beds. Anybody have any tips for training her to walk only in the walkways? She’s very excited about the new land–so excited she got a grass seed stuck in her eye while leaping wildly through the field and had to get it extricated by the vet.

 

And that’s it for this orange slice! Hope you enjoyed your snack. Now let’s get back out there, team! We’re gonna tighten up the defense, support midfield, and just let that star forward carry us on to glory. Hands in! Gooooooooo Blue Fingers!

 

Leigh

 

 

 

 

New Farm 101: Confronting Loneliness

Farming is a lonely job.  Lonely because I spend a lot of time alone; lonely because very few people are interested in doing it. Saying this out loud probably makes me a whiner, because the number of young people farming is rising for the first time in a century.

Even though the numbers are rising, there still aren’t very many of us–farmers and ranchers comprise only 2% of the U.S. population, and organic farmers are only a small percentage of those. Even within organic farming, there is an incredible diversity of business models and crops/animals/services to cultivate and sell, it’s amazing that farmers have much to compare when they do manage to see each other. Compounding that, the people that I have the most in common with are my direct competition–sadly I’ve heard from other young farmers that farmer’s markets become places to hide all faults and put on a brave face about their stumbling blocks. Other young farmers I talk to are most likely to hide growing pains from the only people who have good advice about relieving them. Or experienced growers are reluctant to share because they’re afraid of the growing numbers of organic small-scale growers selling at market.

Moments that make me lonely:

Looking at my farm, noticing how small it is. And dry. And weedy. Looking around for someone to save me from my dry small weedy farm.

Walking produce deliveries into restaurants and feeling embarrassed about my torn pants and dirty hands.

Getting a beer with my friends, trying to explain my job, noticing they’re bored talking about radishes, secretly wishing I had someone to talk about radishes with.

Trying to come up with relevant questions to ask my friends about their summer hobbies.

Trying to remember a time I had summer hobbies.

The first farmer I worked for had a set response to complaints from his crew. He’d say “Welcome to farming, you’re overworked and underpaid, get used to it.” Working for him painted a nightmarish picture of organic agriculture as a lifestyle of suffering; as a young punk I imagined myself finding some sort of loophole to escape his pitfalls. Now that I’m in my 2nd year of running my own farm, I’ve realized that his pitfalls were all symptoms of success and someday I hope I can be good enough to fall into them! And I miss suffering with others.  Its a small thing to look into someone else’s eyes and see the singular wild look that 8 hours of thinning carrots can bring; the only thing better than seeing a mirror of your own eyes is coming up with daydreams to escape the carrots together.

I have a hard time finding friends within the local food movement–let alone people who have never seen how a carrot grows.  Organic farmers are up against century-long cultural movement to reduce the number of people working land–As Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her section of “Letters to a Young Farmer,”

“…however calloused your hands, however grimy the uniform, however your back may sometimes ache, you are a professional. Your vocation is creative, necessary, and intellec­tually demanding. Unfortunately, you’ll run into a lot of people who won’t see you that way. You’re the offspring of a generation—mine—that largely turned its back on the land and its benefaction. We, in our turn, were raised by a gen­eration that set itself hard to the project of escaping from agriculture. For the latter half of the 20th century, the official story was that modern ingenu­ity could mechanize farming so efficiently, a handful of folks could oversee the process while everyone else fled the tyrannies of farm life and rural stulti­fication. Legions believed that story, trained their sights on the city lights, and never looked back. Or they were heartbroken at the prospect of forsaking their family livelihood, but still were forced by poverty to leave the farm for the fac­tory. In any case, they counseled us, their children, to stay in school and study hard so we could score a respectable life sitting at a desk indoors and never get dirt under our fingernails at all.”

Ironically, she ends her letter with a plea for us to wash our hands.  I’m tired of arguing with myself about whether or not starting a farm is a good financial choice. I’m tired of explaining to customers why they should pay $3 for a bunch of carrots.  I’m tired of walking around the farm and feeling like I don’t understand what the plants are doing.  But I need to prepare myself for doing all of those things for the next 20 years. And the only people who can teach me how to do that are other farmers.

Sandpoint is technically a town of 8,000 people. There are close to 40 farms that sell at our farmer’s market. That’s a lot of people that I could ask about how to keep carrots weed free, or how to choose the appropriate greenhouse, or how to keep root maggot out of the turnips. It’s hard to overcome my pride in admitting that this is my 5th year working in farming and I still don’t know how to get carrots to germinate well; but my relief from loneliness hinges on it.

What’s really incredible to me is that I can spend the whole day stewing in loneliness, and it only takes a small moment to dispel it. I love the look on Jess Vouk’s face when I show her something I grew that she couldn’t order anywhere else. I love watching my CSA members leave my pickup with arms loaded down with food that was made within 50 miles of where they live. I love watching Alani bring lunches to work made out of food we grew. I love watching other farmers discover a companion in me–realize that I could be the person they could talk about nematodes with. Even me.

We’re all we’ve got. My community of people who understand my work are making the past two growing seasons worthwhile. In October, I’m going to get a beer and laugh about all this pain and overwork. My table is open if you want to join me–whether or not you know about nematodes.

August CSA Signup is Live! Come and Get it, Foodies.

First, the July CSA was an absolute success. Thank you so much for your support, Priest Lake. I had a great time selling you the best of North Idaho local food and flowers. The monthly CSA sales model worked perfectly as a way for me to harvest and bring the appropriate amount of food.

Second, HEEEELLLP! We’re drowning in produce.  The zucchini are poppin’, green beans climbing, tomatoes getting plump, peppers getting orange and red, so it’s time to expand the CSA and get some of this delicious food off my hands.  August CSA signup is open through the form below! I am expanding the CSA to 15 shares this month, snap them up while you can.

Pickups will be Thursdays– August 9th, 16th, 23rd, 30th–from 4-6pm. I’m just one gal, I can’t make private deliveries, so I’m counting on all of you to make the CSA pickups. If you can’t make the group pickup time, thank you for supporting me, but please don’t sign up for my CSA.

The first pickup will be August 9th, from 4-6pm in the Catholic Church parking lot across from the Tamrak. See you there!

Leigh

p.s. if you have no idea what I’m talking about, please see this post explaining last month’s CSA system and what the heck CSA is all about.

Sign up for the July Priest Lake CSA

We are ready to launch our new monthly produce subscription service for Priest Lake! CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture; it is a produce subscription system that is used nationally on organic farms to connect devoted customers with farmers and build the relationships between local food buyers and local food providers. This website has a great explanation of why CSAs help small farmers succeed. In a CSA, the customer signs up for a “share” of produce; they buy the produce in advance, and pick it up once a week; the choices at the pick-up are based off of what produce is seasonally available. Traditionally a CSA share supplies an entire summer of produce; my CSA is only going to run monthly. A central part of CSA is that not all vegetables are available all the time; the vegetables available at the pick-up are what I have to offer based off of what crops are ripe, doing well, or in abundance.

Pre-ordering produce helps me bring produce to Priest Lake because it helps me plan my harvest and condense my delivery time into one weekly pick-up. The pick up for July will be Thursday, July 5th, July 12th, and July 19th, from 4-7pm at the Catholic church parking lot next to the Tamrak. If you are not available for the pick-up, please don’t sign up for the CSA; I will not be doing any personal deliveries this year.  Thank you for your interest in local food! As my business grows I hope to expand to more options for buying my products in Priest Lake.

Subscription is limited to 10 people for July, so the form will not be open when subscription is full. Stay tuned to the website for early notice of the August CSA!

Welcome to the 2018 Growing Season with Blue Fingers Farm

Hello again! After 6 long months of snow and sub-zero temperatures, it’s finally time to grow plants again. I am proud to announce that Blue Fingers Farm survived its first season, and is feeling incautiously optimistic about going for a second one! Here are some highlights of the upcoming season.

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Alani stocking the goods at the Sandpoint Market

Sandpoint Market Moved to Saturdays:

I am going to sell at the Sandpoint Farmer’s Market on Saturdays instead of Wednesdays this year. Wednesdays are the little leagues, and Blue Fingers is trying out for big leagues. Find us across from the Wells Fargo on N 4th Ave. from 9am-1pm every Saturday throughout the summer. I am going to be majorly expanding fresh bread production, incorporating new sourdough and whole grain recipes; big plans to bring root vegetable bunches, bagged greens, fresh herbs, and a whole lot of cherry tomatoes once they hit. Yeehaw!

Priest Lake CSA running July-September

I am so grateful and moved by the dedication of my Priest Lake customers, I’ve designed a produce ordering system just for them! I am going to offer a monthly pre-ordering program where a family can sign up for a month of seasonal vegetables, fruits, farm fresh eggs, and/or fresh bread through July, August, and September. This is the first year the program is running, so the membership will be limited to 20 customers. I’ll be explaining more in mid-June…stay tuned!

Restaurant Orders Expanding

After a chaotic and exciting first year for both of us,  the friendship between Blue Fingers Farm and Beet & Basil is blossoming into a beautiful partnership. This year I took my seed catalogue straight to the chef and asked her what she would like me to grow. I’ve got a great stash of herbs and unique greens up my sleeve for her, and I can’t wait to see what she and her crew will do with them. I’m looking forward to expanding our greens sales to a few other restaurants in the Sandpoint and Priest Lake areas.

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Mission Impossible:  supply Beet & Basil’s beets and basil

We Lost Caitlin to Missoula

Bad news for us, great news for Missoula! My trusty farming partner has moved on to greener pastures with more career opportunities. Blue Fingers is less without her, but I’m so grateful for her help through the inaugural season; could not have done it without her and will be carrying her ideas and support forward through extended phone calls.

Welcome Alani to the Sweet Chaotic World of Farmer’s Markets

I hired a new Farmers Market Assistant! Her name is Alani, and she is exactly what the doctor ordered. This is her first experience working at a Farmer’s Market and I can’t wait to see what new ideas and contributions she brings to the booth. If you’re at the market, stop by and say hi! She’s very friendly, and she doesn’t bite.

I Have A Puppy

Please welcome my sidekick to Blue Fingers Farm! Her name is Murphy, she is also very friendly, and she does bite. In a friendly puppy way. She will not be at the Farmer’s Markets so you’ll have to visit us in Priest Lake if you want to meet her. How’s that for bait? She is currently undergoing training to become a certified avalanche rescue dog at Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

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Murphy’s Law Goldfish Bercaw, hard at work.

Fresh Local Blueberries! Look for them Saturday at the Priest Lake Farm Stand

 

Bless you, Riley Creek Blueberry Farm. I’ve seen a lot of blueberries, and I’m telling you, these are the most plump and beautiful berries I’ve ever seen. One of the true delights of small-scale growing is that the farmer has the opportunity craft a delicacy. One of the benefits of u-pick is that the farmer saves on the labor costs of berry pickers, so you can have gourmet berries at an average berry price.

Caitlin and I picked 40lbs of these cuties today, come find them at our Priest Lake Farm Stand this Saturday.

And if you miss us, go pick your own at Riley Creek Blueberry Farm in Laclede, open 7 days a week during daylight hours.

New Farm 101: Living the Dream

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides.”

-Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

One attitude society seems to have about farmers is that we’re “living the dream.” Something about bucolic pictures, working outside, getting our hands dirty; whatever the metaphor, it seems to be a life that both rural and urban cultures idealize. I can’t blame them: there seems to be a complete dearth of negative farm pictures. I joined Instagram as free marketing for my business…for the life of me I can’t find anything sad or ugly posted about a small farm. Just shot after shot of beautiful cherry tomatoes. My bank teller told me today that she wishes her job was “watering plants.” Most people used to understand the effort it takes to grow food to eat–not only the technical skills but also the lifestyle that farming demands. With increased industrialization, its easy to forget carrots come from the ground. Even easier to forget the enormous scale required to grow carrots to sell at $2/lb.

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googlesearch “huge carrot field”

Small scale farmers I’ve met are full of terrible stories about nature ruining their plans, farmer’s markets ruining their plans, employees ruining their plans, plants ruining their plans, etc. Not only is this field (pun intended) full of disaster, society seems fairly determined to turn the farming experience into a cutesy farmer’s market booth. It’s very hard to explain my work. There’s a real temptation to rant desperately at anyone who asks me how the farm is going; I apologize if I’ve been treating this website as a way to vent.

Back to the dream! I am living the dream, absolutely in every way. My dream is what Barbara Kingsolver wrote about elementary kindness. Enough to eat. Enough to go around. For me and the community I live in. I don’t have a lot of disposable cash, but I’m paying rent and so is my employee. We have a lot of salad greens wilting in the fridge. I can’t explain the feeling of waking up and choosing when and how to go to work. I’ve been very busy all summer, but I haven’t yet felt like I’ve gone to work. Working hard, but never for anyone for anything I don’t agree with. Living so deep inside the dream that I’m “running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides.”

I am so privileged to have the opportunity to start this farm. Enough complaining, on with the work.

 

New Farm 101: Despair and its Friends

Caitlin told me that the saddest I ever look is right after I set up the farm stand.  When I should be at my most optimistic and hopeful, a small angry entrepreneurial voice in my head is screaming “not enough.” Imposter syndrome is a part of any small business venture, but I think farming is particularly haunted by demons of insufficiency. Farmers can have a perpetual frontier mentality–farming frontiers are geographic and temporal. Success lies just around the bend of that strawberry patch you didn’t plant. If you had planted pole beans a week earlier, you would have had them a week before everyone else at the market. Even plants that are thriving feature in daydreams where they thrive even more abundantly. Success itself is not enough; there are so many varieties and techniques of food growing that the grass is literally always greener on the other farm…and it was greener a week earlier than everyone else’s.

Farmer’s markets are frustrating sales arenas because of the constant specter of my own insufficiency. I specifically chose not to grow broccoli because of my land and growing season restraints, but when I see broccoli at the other booths I collapse into my easy fold out lawn chair and assume my sales are done. Which, in a way, they are. Selling is a performance: both of my food and my salesmanship. When I exit stage right out of depression or fear, I manifest that fear into a drop in sales.

So despair is not a new farmer’s friend. Constant companion, maybe, but not a friend. A farmer friend once told me to take advantage of this first year, because it would be the most hopeful and enthusiastic I would ever feel about farming. Today I drove home from the market crying because the despair I feel is supposed to by my emotional high. Which means…it gets much, much worse. Not having broccoli isn’t the Dust Bowl.

But, it’s also been my experience that farming has a lot of friends. Since I started this venture, help and support rain down on me and my quarter acre.  Only farmers I used to work for warned me against starting my own farm; everyone else offered me tools, advice, and enthusiasm. Starting a farm in a region famed for its doomsday preppers has some serious advantages: there is real curiosity, passion, and skill in North Idaho for living off a small patch of land with very few tools. People here want local farms to succeed: not just because it’s an environmental or moral right, but because its the way humans used to build communities in this area, and look forward to building community again.

Despair seems to travel with friends. At Priest Lake last Saturday, after setting up my stand and sucking up a tear about STILL only having salad mixes and radishes to sell, a stranger in an RV full of flowerbaskets and strawberries sold me her stock. And a local grower I barely knew showed up with a cooler full of bok choi and chocolate mint. And suddenly, I had the bigggest (*cough* and the only) farmstand in town. Famous!

New Farm 101: I’m Disgusted By Lettuce

Don’t get me wrong, I care a lot about greens. I spend a lot of my work day thinking about mustard greens. How much I can harvest this week–how to keep them ideal baby salad size forever–how to keep the flea beetles away from them–but usually I cook them with bacon. At best, salad is a side dish for this young greens grower.

Supposedly a new farmer’s most profitable crop is salad greens, because they’re easy to grow, quick to harvest, and the most justifiable thing for the common man to buy locally. Baby greens are among the most fragile of food crops and can be grown almost anywhere; it just makes sense to skip the shipping costs and buy a bag of greens that were cut that morning by your neighbor. And yet…I can’t get the common man to care about them. Week after week I watch people swarm the booth for bread samples, and when the bread is gone I find myself foisting salad upon reluctant passerby. My customers are more enthusiastic about radishes than lettuce. Radishes!

I believe partly this is because farmers markets have become (or perhaps always were) places to buy quaint oddities rather than dietary staples. I think most localvores buy their lettuce at Safeway and their lavender lattes at the Farmer’s market. I don’t blame them; the only way I can afford mostly local vegetables is because I spend my summer growing them. Unlike produce markets in poorer parts of the world, American farmer’s markets are tourist attractions more than groceries.

So then how do farmers make themselves more appetizing? Should we fight for rock-bottom prices like grocery stores, competing over who can sell the most cheap and despondent lettuce? I don’t think anyone can beat Walmart at that game.

I’m dreaming up a new strategy, one I announce with a little shame as it acknowledges my flagging lettuce enthusiasm. One of the best and most frustrating parts of this season is realizing how little I can do to change my trajectory with vegetables. Farming is a long-term game; my quickest product takes a month to be ready to harvest. When it comes to increasing profits my hands are tied to the seeds I’ve already planted. But baking bread takes a few hours. And people seem to like it a lot more than lettuce. I see no reason to be aesthetically pure about selling vegetables. Bread and salad belong on the same table, and I believe they encourage the sale of each other. Instead of constantly brow-beating myself for failing to sell my precious mustard greens, what if I started selling cookies, and cheering whenever someone buys some greens with their cookies? Frankly, I believe in eating both greens and cookies, heartily and with great abandon. Where is the line between full-time farmer/hobby baker and hobby farmer/full time baker? The startup business books say don’t get distracted from your goal; build it and the customers will come. But until the carrots and other colorful vegetary oddities are ready to harvest, I’ve got to DO SOMETHING and SAVE THE FARM.

I read somewhere that farmers are frequently jack of all trades. We have to be master gardeners, diesel mechanics, unflappable marketers, fieldwork yoga practitioners, amateur welders, casual inventors, and full-time philosophers. I need to take a crash course on baking. Any masters of the craft willing to be paid in lettuce?

Suspend Your Disbelief: Your New Favorite Spring Vegetable May Be A Turnip.

Not just any turnip. Introducing the Hakurei Turnip, a sweet and crisp Japanese turnip; its light and fruity flavor is finally part of Blue Fingers’ first summer.

I like to take the time to mention these guys because I’ve never seen a vegetable create more faces of surprised delight when a customer tries one. Last week in Priest Lake a customer drove away and then came back a minute later saying she tried one in the car and immediately turned around for more.

Sadly the root maggots got to 2/3 of the first planting, but I’m seeding more now, and this time I’ll see if I can get more to the markets. We’ll hopefully have a steady supply of them from here on out! (Albeit limited quantities)

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May I reccomend Miso Glazed Hakurei Turnips, cooked in their own greens?