Winter Projects

Did you miss us? We have had the farmers market the last two weeks and I meant to send updates at least whenever we had a market, but things get busy for me (the farmer’s wife) during this season. Not that Jeremy hasn’t been busy – there are lots of projects going on at the farm!

First up was replacing some roof panels in the packing shed. Some of the translucent panels had been damaged by hail so every time it rained, water dripped in. Not anymore! Also, at long last, the painting is all done in the pack shed!  We are well on our way to getting this building inspected and certified as a food warehouse.

Next up was a shade structure expansion. Having inoculated almost 5,000 logs earlier this year, we are going to need more space for them. Jeremy and Andy (our newest employee), got pipe, cut it to fit, and had it all laid out on Monday.

shadestructureexpand1.jpg

Monday was a blissfully warm day (at least for upper Wisconsin in December!) and then the temperature plummeted overnight and the snow arrived. It was far too cold to work outside.  It felt warm enough by Thursday (or we here in the upper Midwest just acclimate that fast) to finish putting up the pipes. Another project done!

shadestructureexpand2

Yet another project on the farm is converting the old inoculation shed/storage shed into employee housing.  For those of you who have been to the farm, you may have noticed this decrepit looking shed propped up on pallets right outside the door of the house.  We plan to move it eventually, but Jeremy and Andy are getting some work done on it first.

Making sure it’s all insulated:

employeeHouse1

Taking out the overhead door and replacing it with a window and wall:

employeeHouse2

The electrical is done so after the wall was completed they were able to turn on a space heater and get the shed nice and toasty.  This is basically our first foray into tiny houses and we’re pretty excited about it.  Jeremy picked up a small wood stove which will be used for heating it. We do have plenty of wood around to burn!

Lastly, the first load of logs was delivered today – so inoculations for 2018 will be starting soon. No rest for mushroom farmers!

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Before and After

We had a lot of “before and after” on the farm this last week. As I mentioned last week, we got a start on turning all of that cut wood from last year into firewood. Jeremy thinks he got through maybe 1/3 of the pile of wood. There is a LOT of firewood!

 

Last weekend I was also working on that darn pack shed again. It’s SO CLOSE to being painted! But it’s not there yet. There are just a few bits at one end that are too high up for me to reach and we don’t have scaffolding. We have one ladder that is too tall and one that is too short!  So Jeremy has to finish those bits when he finds some free time. In between painting the pack shed and stacking firewood, I got to work painting a room in the upstairs of the farm house. We thought it could use some freshening and brightening up.

 

All this week Jeremy has had temporary folks coming by to help with the big fall project of moving the 5,000 logs in the woods up to the shade structure at the front of the farm. That is a bit of a long term project, though hopefully it will be wrapped up by the end of November if not sooner!  With the crew on hand Thursday, Jeremy decided it was time to take the shade fabric down from the shade structure. They’ll have to move the fabric on and off as they move more logs in and if the weather warms up to pick mushrooms. But with snow in the forecast, we don’t take any chances leaving the shade fabric up. We left it up once about 2-3 years ago and the weight of just a couple inches of snow from that early snowstorm bent the pipes of the shade structure!  We definitely don’t want to go through fixing that again.

 

We’ve got more to do to button up the farm for the winter and Jeremy is already contacting loggers looking for the new batch of 5,000 or so logs for inoculations to start in December.

I’m going to take a break from regular weekly email updates over the winter – you’ll just be hearing from us when there is a Winter Market happening. You won’t miss us too much though – Winter Markets are practically every other week now!

Road trip!

Last week we took advantage of the long weekend for a road trip and some work on the farm. (To be clear, Jeremy, as a farmer, NEVER has weekends; but I, the farmer’s wife, definitely have weekends.) Jeremy has been thinking about buying a fancier tool for mushroom inoculations. Field & Forest, located near Peshtigo in eastern Wisconsin, has the tool and invited us to come take it for a test drive.

We left first thing on Friday morning to drive the four and a half hours across the state. Our route took us over some tiny state roads winding through stunningly beautiful farmland and forests. We got to Field & Forest just after lunch and spent some time catching up with our friends, mentors, and mushroom spawn suppliers, Joe and Mary Ellen. Joe and Mary Ellen have been in the mushroom business for many years and are very helpful with advice and commiserating about the difficulties of a mushroom farmer’s life.

We got down to business with Joe and one of their employees showing us the machine, demonstrating how it works, and letting Jeremy take a shot at it.

 

 

There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, you can inoculate logs twice as fast as our current tool. Now that we’re up to 5,000 logs a year this tool would make a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to do inoculations.

But – the BIG but – it is $8,000!! Jeremy figures it would pay for itself in the first year or so as he wouldn’t need to hire as many people to help with inoculations. But it’s a lot of cash up front and we have a lot of other expenses to think about. I think we’re going to hold off for now on getting this tool and hope that between Jeremy and his current employee (who is pretty amazing at inoculating) they can do the slower process for at least one more year.

(But if you, or someone you know, has $8,000 lying around and you want to help make this dream tool our tool, drop us a line!)

After trying out the tool we spent more time with Joe and Mary Ellen and got a tour of their farm. It was fun to catch up with them and compare notes on mushroom farming!

First thing Saturday morning we headed back home. As I mentioned last week, we had a big painting project.  We’ve got to get this monstrosity of a pack shed all painted so we can get it certified as a food warehouse.

packshed

The eternal optimist in me thought, “oh, this will be easy! Just a quick weekend job!” Ugh. I was so wrong. It’s a fussy thing to paint just the 2x4s and beams of a building, especially when you first have to scrub off years of accumulated dust (and a little bird poop) just so the paint will stick!  This will be an ongoing project but hopefully we’ll get it done by the end of the month. The small portion we managed to clean and paint does look pretty good. Stay tuned for pictures when we get this project all wrapped up!

Farming is hard

I know, I said I’d regale you all with stories about how to keep mushrooms at the right temperature and humidity. I changed my mind – sorry to disappoint!

It’s been a hard couple weeks on the farm. As I mentioned briefly last week, we lost an employee so we’re down one worker on the farm. Just as I was sending the newsletter out last Friday night, our brand new Farmers Market employee quit. This person runs every other Saturday market and all the Sunday ones, so Sunday at Kingfield might be canceled for a little while. Do you know anyone in the Twin Cities who loves the farmers market and would like to work at the farmers market selling mushrooms? We’re looking for someone!

For a couple of months Jeremy has been working to get into more stores and just last month we excitedly announced that we were in Kowalski’s and Lunds & Byerlys. Last week Kowalski’s dropped us, after just a couple weeks, because the mushrooms just weren’t selling. This was a blow and it makes us worry about other new stores we’re working to get into, and the stores we’re already in.

forsale

It’s pretty cool to see our mushrooms for sale at the co-op!

When it comes to selling mushrooms I feel like we’re up against a lot. First is the pervasive message in our society that “cooking is hard.” It’s too hard, too hot, too messy, takes too much time, etc, say the marketers for restaurants, fast food, frozen dinners, and all manner of prepared, precooked, packaged, and convenience foods. Probably most farmers face this hurdle to some extent, some more than others. I think we have an additional hurdle to this: for those people who do choose to cook, there are a lot of people who don’t know what to do with mushrooms. Or mushrooms seem sort of exotic and they aren’t easily thought of when ingredients for a meal are gathered. Or, worse yet, people have had bad experiences with mushrooms and are just sure they hate mushrooms! How many of you grew up with spinach cooked horribly and you assumed you hated it, till you had it cooked a different way?

Another problem is cost. People want the absolute cheapest possible food they can get. We balk at the price of milk and bread and apples. How could those cost so much!? How soon will they be on sale? Is there a store that sells them for cheaper? The part of my brain that budgets for grocery shopping understands. But the rest of my brain now knows how much work goes into all this food. Raising animals, planting and nurturing seeds, months or even years of work before you finally have something to sell. And then all the costs for processing, packaging, shipping, the costs for paying for the appropriate government-approved storage facility or washing facility or packaging facility, the costs for inspecting the farm and the buildings, the costs for licenses, permits, and all the other paperwork. The way our farming system is set up right now, you almost have to be a gigantic farm in order to make any money. Think about how many middle men are demanding a chunk out of the 99-cents you paid for those eggs. How much is left for the farmer?

Cost affects mushroom farms too. Where do all your super cheap mushrooms come from? Most likely China or the east coast, from gigantic farming operations. How can a mid-size (or even small) mushroom farm compete? We can’t of course.

And: farming is hard work! We’re finding there aren’t a lot of people who want to do it. It can be back-breaking, monotonous, exhausting. You’re working outside when it’s blazing hot, or pouring rain, or freezing cold. I guess it takes a special sort of crazy person to sign up for that!

So if farming, and mushroom farming in particular, is so darn difficult, why do we keep doing it? Believe me, we ask ourselves that question a lot! Sometimes the answer is: because we have so much time and money sunk into this, we can’t stop now! Sometimes the answer is: well, what else would we do? And sometimes the answer is: because it feels like the right thing to do. We’re being good stewards of this little piece of land we have, finding ways to use it responsibly and not hurting the earth. We’re growing food that is high quality, nutritious, and beautiful. We’re helping to provide a local source of mushrooms for this region so those who choose don’t have to buy them from thousands of miles away. Though it comes with a lot of difficulties, it’s fun to be doing a kind of farming that’s pretty rare.

We are grateful for the support of our community – all of our family, friends, and regular customers at the farmers market. We keep doing this for you too. You all seem to love these tasty mushrooms.  So keep eating mushrooms, and tell all your friends and family  how amazing mushrooms are!