Mother Nature Goes Hi-Tech: 2019 Summer CSA, Week 11

July 22-28, 2019

In our quest to bring you responsibly grown food, we have access to technologies our ancestors could not even imagine. Apart from having all the knowledge of the world in our pocket, manufacturing components and building materials designed for specific industrial applications are now available for our unique situations on the farm. From electric fencing to high tunnels, there are pretty cool tools for us to work with as we care for our land and produce food respectful of Mother Nature.

Elmwood Stock Farm is divided up into 19 or 20 fields, depending on how you count. The regenerative lens through which we look at farming systems comes from our forefathers, and long ago the Robert Holmes family laid out the basic grid from which the Bell-Stone family works today. No self-respecting farmer would allow for soil erosion, underfeed their stock, or contaminate the land. The founders set this farm up to run really well all on its own, plants collecting solar energy and animals rearing their young. We greatly appreciate and respect all they did to keep this land fertile into the 21st Century.

Back in the 1700’s the Holmes family built a beautiful brick home with a tree lined driveway and constructed some version of fencing to contain livestock and establish a land boundary.  The earliest fence rows were made from enormous trees. It was a big project to cut trees for posts and rails and fashion them into a sturdy barrier, but I’m sure it seemed easier than the alternative of mining cliff faces and stacking rows of rocks. As wire fencing materials came into vogue, other fences were erected to keep cattle and sheep away from the tobacco fields.

The age-old fencerows are the backbone of our grazing grid. Modern day fencing ranges from single spools of plastic twine with interwoven metal fibers, to nets of various sized weave patterns depending on your intended use. Plastic posts are attached to the nets making it easy to walk along and stick the spike on the bottom of the post into the ground.

Electric fencing systems are powered by energizers that run off solar panels, battery, or household current. They range in size from palm-sized gizmos that can be hung on a post to a stronger shoe box-sized unit that can be mounted on a wall. They are rated on joules and the more joules the more jolt. When touched by beast or man, it sends this shivering shock through most of the body without hurting you, imprinting the brain with the message to not ever touch that again.  Counter-intuitively it’s easier to contain a thousand-pound cow than a five-pound chicken.  A cow will respect a single wire at waist level, while a chicken will dart over or under and requires an electrified netting instead. With the long-established physical barriers and today’s technology, in mere minutes we can put up a fence to contain any type of livestock anywhere we want.

On any given day, single strands of poly-wire are stretched between the permanent fence, which allows us to rotate the animals around the farm to harvest the grass. Ultimately this means we can husband more pounds of livestock per square foot than our ancestors could possibly imagine. All of this goes on while self-improving the land, something our ancestors would be proud of.

The overall layout of barns and water systems were also determined by the early developers. Just a few generations ago, farm families loaded their larders with root crops in the cellars, home canned veggies, smoked meats, and kept chickens in order to survive until the next growing season. Gardening in the winter was crazy talk, and to this day, many rural people don’t “put the garden out” in Kentucky until May.

Glass greenhouses were clearly the way to go, but the expense was out of reach for most. With the advent of plastic sheeting a few decades ago, farmers began fashioning makeshift structures to protect their tender seedlings from the cold. This meant they could have the first veggies at the farmers markets and sell their produce over a longer season. Clear plastic sheeting, metal tubing and simple fasteners have changed things, and now high tunnels, low tunnels and caterpillar tunnels can extend the seasonality of food crops. The early adopters probably had no idea just how far farmer ingenuity would take their ideas.

In grower vernacular, a greenhouse is a heated facility and a high tunnel is an unheated structure where the crops grow in the soil. They look similar at first glance. At Elmwood, we have two heatable greenhouses used for transplants, and three types of high tunnels.

This week, an Amish crew is coming to the farm to construct a 150 foot extension to the 100 foot high tunnel we built last year. The USDA has a local food production incentive program where they cost share the purchase of a high tunnel, and the farmer assembles it and commits to growing in it for a set number of years. Normally we handle all farm construction projects on our own, but this time of year during the busy growing season, we are glad there is another option. The experienced group of men will drive the 100 or so posts, connect the arched pipe bows, stretch the huge specialized plastic sheeting, hold it in place with wiggle wire, and build and hang the end doors. Overnight, we’ll have the ability to expand our winter growing area and provide local foods all winter to CSA members.

Each of these examples demonstrate how modern technology fits within our vision of a regenerative farming system. The first takes solar energy and converts it into nutritious protein, while the second coverts solar energy into plants that fuel our bodies. I like to think the Holmes family and all the subsequent farmers at Elmwood Stock Farm would be pleased to see how we have taken their ideas and run, all the while being respectful of the land, the animals, and the organic farming system Mother Nature offers. – Mac

In Your Share

  • Beets
  • Sweet Corn
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Summer Squash
  • Surprise Item
  • Salad Tomatoes
  • Slicing Tomatoes
  • Gold Turnips

Recipes

Check out our Pinterest board for this week’s recipes! https://www.pinterest.com/elmwoodstockfar/recipes-2019-summer-csa/

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