Common Ground Radio DEBUT

After getting their recent newsletter I found MOFGA to be doing a weekly radio show up in Blue Hill, ME.  You can hear it online if you are not in the listening area.

For me, this is very exciting to hear people I see at the big events, and who organize many of the events I go to where I have learned about food and farm.  I’m so happy to see them moving in to new ways of activism and communication.


2010 Maine Departement of Agriculture – Growing Grains in Maine

I attended the show on the first day and sat in on this discussion about addressing “what’s happening in Maine with growing our own grains”, the session was full of people doing great things with grains.



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MOFGA’s Farmer to Farmer Conference

This was my first trip to the Farmer to Farmer Conference, and I had a great time. I really loved the location.  Everyone was super nice and down to earth, smart and fun loving.  The younger farmers with the kids in tow are beautiful, and I got to share some food and laughs with lots of farmers I buy from here in Portland at the Farmer’s Market and through the Portland Food Co-op.

A big thank you and shout out to Melissa White at MOFGA. You’ve given me some great learning opportunity, and a fun project for me that is also serious.  If I can’t be a farmer, volunteering to support the ways of the small organic farmer is the next best thing.

OK, on to the audio recordings from around the conference...

Each recording is around 2 hours 15 minutes.  The audio towards the end where it is discussion may be too low, but it’s worth hearing.

Keynote Address
E. Ann Clark, Associate Professor, University of Guelph, Ontario Canada


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Farm Financial Planning
Richard Wiswall, Cate Farms


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New Food Safety Policies: What do they mean for your farm?
Russell Libby, MOFGA Executive Director
Cheryl Wixson, MOFGA
Jim Ostergard


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Natural and Organic Honeybee Keeping for Crop Pollination
Ross Conrad, Dancing Bee Gardens
Christie Hemenway, Gold Star Honeybees
Luis Feliciano, Miel Farm & Apiary


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Regano™ Project for Parasite Control
Diane Schivera, MOFGA’s Organic Livestock Specialist
Perry Ells, Ells Farm


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Open-Source Software Comes To The White House

This is far from a political blog, but in this article from the NY Times today, I was THRILLED to see that is now run by the open-source software package called Drupal.

For me as the Internet Farmer, I love open-source. The software is free, and after using it for over 15 years I’m pretty good at helping clients use it.  It is the basis of most of my business.  Without it, I would have no choice but to charge high fees that farmers may not afford.  Using free software allows me to focus on service, and that is what client’s pay for.

Personally, I don’t use Drupal.  It’s a much larger package than me or my clients need in most cases.  I keep it simple by using two open-source packages that do most of what anyone needs. I use WordPress for my Blog Newsletter, and Zen Cart for E-commerce.  That covers 95% of what anyone needs for their website(s).

What is “open-source software”?

You can find the details of what open-source software is technically here.  It can be quite technical and focus on distribution and the code itself, when you get down to it.  For me, the keys to open-source are these simple principles:

  • It’s free to download and use
  • You can change the code to make improvements as long as you are willing to share those changes
  • We all benefit from the improvements that we and others make

It’s a real do-it-yourself thing, and it is supported by thousands of programmers and users around the world.  People writing software like this are literally giving back by letting the community use, and improve upon, their software.  That last part is key… improve upon.

When you make the software better and share it with people, we are all better off for it. I think that idea goes a long way here.  Not much different than two farmers sharing ideas is it?

If you are ready to start using open-source software, contact me today, or start some discussion below.

Common Ground Fair 2009

My friend Tim and I decided to ride our bikes to the fair from Portland. It was great, but more difficult that most rides because of our camping gear and clothes.  Loved every second of it!

Working with MOFGA, I was able to create a new volunteer job for myself. As the Internet Farmer might do, we wanted to record some speakers who discussed topics in areas that MOFGA does not have a regular specialist for so that anyone can learn.  Being the Internet Farmer, I of course agreed, and hope to see a podcast of this great material someday.

Enjoy the photos and recordings…

The audio files are in a very raw form, and each is about one hour. There is several minutes of dead air at the beginning of a couple of recordings, so be patient or click on the bar to fast forward a bit.

Michael Phillips – Home Orchard Basics


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Will Bonsall – Backyard Grain


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Will Bonsall – Food Legumes


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Russ Conrad – Current State of Beekeeping: Organic Solutions for Healthy Hives


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Charles Yelton – Permaculture Principles


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Mark Fulford – Plants, Minerals & Biology: an Inseperable Relationship


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Buds Of Spring In My Apartment

Last year when I worked the first half of a season at Wealden Farm in Freeport, I fell in love with growing seeds. The attachment I had was amazing, and was only realized late in the summer when the harvest came and the little seeds I once planted in a tiny hole were bigger than me and could feed me many times over.

Living in Portland and not farming this year, things have changed for this year’s season. Thanks to my also-former-farmer partner Kate, we’ve taken on the city version of farming… container gardening. Our challenge? To feed ourselves with lettuce for the summer, and maybe the whole year. This means feeding 4 people who live at our two residences.

I admit, I did not give this much thought at first and nay-sayed it all. But after thinking it through, it was the only way I could do anything with no land and living in an apartment. And since lettuce likes colder weather and needs less sun, it was perfect for the low-sun backyard and apartment windows that will be our sun here in Portland.  So we’ll use my apartment as the greenhouse, and her backyard for when it is warmer.  I’ve always joked about farming my apartment and how my downstairs neighbor would be mad when I watered, and now it’s a reality.  Not quite, but I’m still using a shovel and dirt in my apartment, and that’s all I need to be able to say “I farm my apartment now”. (ha ha)

I’ve also ended up growing a beard the last couple of months. Somehow, I’ve ended up saying that I’m not shaving until I eat some of this lettuce. It will be good to eat my own greens, and be cleanly shaven.  Still a few weeks away though.  Mid-May is about when we can start eating.

Until my next post, here are some of the first photos of our home-grown-apartment-greens. We are growing flowers too, but I’m all about the food.  All of this was planted on 3/21, and we will plant new lettuce every two weeks to stay stocked with greens for four.

This is the first round of our lettuce and flowers spread out on what was my TV stand.  Here is a few types of lettuce, flowers for pollenation and herbs like sage and thyme and rosemary.

This is the first round of our lettuce and flowers spread out on what was my TV stand. Here is a few types of lettuce, flowers for pollenation and herbs like sage and thyme and rosemary.

A baby lettuce popping it's head out.

A baby lettuce popping it's head out after 3 weeks.

Red Chard looking good, but a little blurry.  I'm working on that!

Red Chard looking good, but a little blurry. I'm working on that!

Bibb Lettuce

Bibb Lettuce

Sweet Red Lettuce

Sweet Red Lettuce

My partner wouldn't be happy if I didn't give kudos to a few flowers.  Here's her Sweet Pea.  Pollenators are obviously a gift of mother nature once we move outdoors.

My partner wouldn't be happy if I didn't give kudos to a few flowers. Here's her Sweet Pea. Pollenators are obviously a gift of mother nature once we move outdoors.

E-commerce & Small Farms

iStock_000004261337XSmallWhen I started working on a farm, it started becoming clear to me that selling online would make a great addition to the local food system. My farmer thought I was crazy.  The most basic reason why… because an online catalog can be doing all the work for me while I’m out working in the field or selling at a farmer’s market or farm stand.  There’s plenty of other reasons to, which depend on what type of sales structure you work with.  Here are some specific thoughts on the major venues of sales for smaller farms.

Farmer’s who have a farm stand or sell at retail in some form will find that e-commerce can directly translate online with an unmanned store taking orders 24/7.  Like a farm stand of your wares, you’ll have a website ready to accept orders using credit cards or purchase orders for pickups.  Your catalog is always up to date and allows customers to place orders without you having to take the call while you are planting a cover crop, harvesting, or making jams.  This applies to both retail and wholesale, as the system of shopping or putting in a purchase order is essentially the same when you automate it online.

For CSAs, displaying your catalog online gives prospective share holders an idea of what to expect for the season.  Some CSAs may benefit from actually selling products as well, so it can suit both purposes, and change as needed.  But selling online may not always be about a money exchange either, especially for CSAs or farmers who just want an easier way to communicate details of their farming.  Sometimes it’s marketing and communications, where you’ll want a blog and a newsletter to enhance the relationship with your members.  It’s all a part of doing e-commerce.

For Farmer’s Markets, groups of farmers and producers all share a single shopping cart can easily offer online ordering for customers to pick up on the day of the market.  The sale is complete before you harvest and carry it all to market, and you’ll have less waste since much of your selling was pre-ordered.  This is starting to happen around the country, and is a wonderful addition to business, and is part of e-commerce for farming.

For Buying Clubs, an online ordering system allows many people to order as groups.  This is a new and developing markets that can let farmers create their own markets, but certainly lives in the realm of e-commerce techniques, and the Internet Farmer is well versed to help you understand this an other emerging ideas online.

I Love Spinach!

And now for something from the farmer side of things…

An article in the NY Times about spinach got me dreaming about spring (on this cold-rainy-slushy day here in Maine) and how much I love spinach. It seems crazy that I’ve only said that the last few years of my life. For about 35 years, no spinach, period. As I used to say, “blech!”

The key for me was learning that I did not like “cooked” spinach. I can tolerate it more now, but the taste just doesn’t work for me. But still, I love other cooked greens like kale and chard with some butter and Parmesan cheese. Love It!

Fresh spinach, on the other hand, is now my favorite green. It’s like eating photosynthesis! I guess growing up, spinach was cooked, I didn’t like it, and that was that. Without the choice, how are you to know? Growing up in a suburb of Detroit, it wasn’t exactly farm-central.

After learning about growing food a bit, I see spinach with all new eyes. It’s more than just good for you, it’s good for the land and sometimes the crops that grow next to it. That’s where the double edge sword for spinach comes in. The way I understand it, spinach is like a sponge. It soaks up everything from the soil, both bad and good.

So what’s bad or good?

The good is that it will soak up all the good nutrients from the soil, making it a hardy green with all the health of the earth.

The bad is when it soaks up things like pesticides. Any plant will soak up the pesticides we spray on them to some degree, but from what I’m told spinach more than other vegetables. So it’s no good to eat just any old spinach.

In a more productive sense than just telling you don’t eat it, be educated. The best purchase you can make is to buy directly from the person who grew the spinach, or anything we grow, and ask about their pesticide policies. It’s a blast getting out to the farms you eat from, but if you can’t get there, go to your local farmers markets and retail stores who stock the local products and endorse organic methods of growing food.

These days there are co-ops, winter markets and buying clubs focused on getting organic and local food. As a resident of Portland, Maine, here’s a couple resources for finding meat, produce and fish in Maine. Do a little searching on google to find resources closest to you.

The Portland Food Co-op’s “FoodNow! Buying Club”

Find Farms, CSA’s, Farmer’s Markets and more at the Maine Department of Agriculture’s “Get Real Maine”

Local Sprouts CSK (Community Supported Kitchen – 100% local, prepared food)

Do you like spinach too? Got any tips on growing? Recipe? Please comment below!