We're always looking for new products to grow or make on the farm. Ben recently got a chance to work on his crafting skills by taking two metalsmithing classes! The first was a tinsmithing class in Indiana, while the second was a coppersmithing class in Ohio. There are substantial differences between the smithing techniques.
Tinsmithing involves taking sheets of steel that are electroplated with tin to prohibit rust. Great care must be taken when forming the tinplate to prevent scratches that would cause deterioration of the underlying steel.
Coppersmithing starts with sheets of solid copper. The copper sheets are continually beaten into shape with various hammers. This hammering causes the copper to become hard and brittle, so periodically the object is annealed by heating, usually with a torch. If the copper object will hold food or drink, it must then be coated with tin on the interior to prevent a metallic taste from being imparted on the food or drink.
For those interested in taking classes or just learning more, the following website is a good resource:
Below are fruits of Ben's labor (left to right):
tin cup with straight sides, tin candle wall sconce, copper "moscow mule" cup with curved sides, tin handheld candle holder with punch pattern, tin cup with sloped sides and beading
Maple syrup season is here...well, actually it's been here since late January. We've been so busy we forgot to post about the beginning of the season. Sorry!
Anyway, here are some pics from the start of our season!
Many of our readers probably wonder what farmers do in the "down season". Well, between our main growing season (late Spring to early Fall) and our maple syrup season (late January to early March), we find time to relax, catch our breath, and work on something else!
For the last couple of years, Ben has been spending some of his downtime building Little Free Libraries for the Greene County Literacy Coalition. For those that don't know, a Little Free Library (LFL) is a way to expand the reach of local libraries by providing a book exchange in underserved communities. This allows patrons to borrow books and return them for new books at their convenience. Periodically, the library replaces the books within the LFL.
The first LFL that Ben created can be found on the LFL website map and is registered as #53380.
The LFL's destination was in front of a church, so it was made to look like a church as well. Features include: lapped cedar siding, sheet metal roof, and faux stained glass windows.
The second LFL can be found at the same LFL website map and is registered as #53379.
This LFL was inspired by farming, so it was built to resemble a barn. Vibrant and contrasting colors were chosen. Additionally, the LFL is double sided; a partition divides the interior in two and both ends have a door.
The third LFL was just recently completed and hasn't yet been registered with the LFL website. It is located in front of the American Legion in Lyons, IN.
This LFL features a large front door and paint scheme to match the surrounding buildings.
As you can see, downtime for a diversified farmer simply means putting down one tool and picking up another!
Welcome back for the fifth and final part covering the Armed To Farm training! During our last day, we covered one final topic: Social Media.
Social media provides several opportunities for farmers. But first, what is social media? Social media provides a means to interact with customers over the Internet by allowing farmers to tell their story, promote their products, spread brand recognition, and address customer feedback. This interaction can be telling stories about the farm (blogs), providing short and frequent updates about the farm (posts), or visually using pictures or video. Additionally, Social Media allows your customers to follow people and organizations (like your farm), forming groups of people online with a common interest. They can then post comments to each other or the farm.
By far the largest Social Media website today is Facebook. Facebook is a general purpose Social Media website allowing users (customers or farms) to set up a profile, post news updates, send instant messages, and post photos. Twitter is another popular Social media site focusing on short, frequent posts, called tweets. Yet another popular website is Instagram focusing on sharing visual content like photos and videos. Other popular Social Media websites include Pinterest, Etsy, Snapchat, Periscope, and LinkedIN.
The rest of the training covered creating content for your Social Media profile, posting eye catching visuals, linking your Social Media accounts and scheduling posts, and interacting with online customers in a professional manner.
Armed To Farm was a great experience for Ben, allowing him meet other military veterans (and transitioning military) who are interested in starting or continuing to build a farm. All of the presenters were very friendly and knowledgeable. The farm field trips were a great way to demonstrate what other veterans are doing, and probably more importantly, that it can be done!
Armed to Farm website
Armed to Farm Intro videos
Farmer Veteran Coalition
USDA site for new farmers (including links for Veterans)
National Resources Conservation Service: Part of the USDA that provides technical & financial assistance for conservation work
National Ag Law Center: legal considerations
FTC: free annual credit reports
Farm field trips:
Shannon Family Farms
Purdue Student Farm
Crowl Cattle Farm
Blue Yonder Organic Farm
Welcome back! While visiting Blue Yonder Organic Farm, the Armed To Farm veterans heard a presentation from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners to promote environmental conservation practices. Although the NRCS provides several programs, one of the most utilized is the EQIP program. In fact Four Flags Farm has just been awarded several EQIP contracts including invasive species mitigation, pollinator habitat, and a 30' x 70' hoop house. One of the main points the speaker mentioned was that EQIP contracts need to address a natural resource concern related to an existing agriculture practice. A few examples include: removing invasive species from an existing forest, adding internal paddock fencing to an existing fenced pasture with livestock, or adding a hoop house to land already growing crops. In other words, the contracts enhance an existing agriculture practice, not creating from scratch. After hearing from the NRCS speaker, the veterans toured the rest of Blue Yonder Farm, before retiring for the night, in preparation for the next day.
At the start of day four of Armed To Farm, we began with branding for our farms. Branding consists of several things including:
If you're looking for help designing a logo, a couple of resources mentioned include:
When considering your Visuals, a farm/business needs to consider all of the different ways in which the visuals may be used including:
Whether your farm produces it's own website, uses social media, or both, the content (stories, pictures, etc.) need to focus on three activities to share it's story:
After all that classroom time, it was once again time for a field trip! We visited King Bee in Rockville, IN.
Stevie King hosted the Armed To Farm veterans and gave a quick introduction on bee keeping and the equipment used. King Bee offers a variety of equipment for all ranges of beekeeper from beginner to experienced. The pictures above show both a Langstroth hive, as well as a Top-bar hive. The silver tanks are honey extractors.
For those interested in beekeeping, the best resource is to visit their local beekeeping club. In Indiana, please visit The Beekeepers of Indiana to find a local club near you. Four Flags Farm is a member of both The Beekeepers of Indiana, as well as the Greene County Beekeepers club. We highly recommend visiting your local club for advice before making any beekeeping purchases.
Up next is the fifth and final post on Armed To Farm, where we'll cover Social Media, provide a quick overview of the previous topics, as well as links to farms/businesses we visited.
The third day of Armed To Farm began with more class time. We began by covering one of the ways to fund a farm, namely Farm Credit. It works similarly to a credit union. They offer credit, in the form of the Growing Forward program, to young and beginning farmers. They encourage any new customer to come prepared with their credit report, information on all credit cards. a business plan, a balance sheet, and an income statement. The last three may seem daunting, but NCAT provides assistance to farmers in the form of tutorials and worksheets for free, as well as publications for a very small fee. (Credit reports can be obtained for free.) The Farm Credit presenter also explained that they look for the following when deciding whether to finance customers:
At this point, let me just pause to mention that we are not attorneys. We are not offering advice of any kind (simply passing on information we received during Armed To Farm). If you have legal questions, please consult an attorney.
The next presenter was an attorney with the National Ag Law Center. The first topic was Business Structures. In general Sole Proprietorships and General Partnerships are the most risky as they provide no liability protection to the owners. If your business is held liable for something, you as the owner are held liable and all assets (business and personal) are at risk. The business structure providing the most liability protection is the Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). It's important to separate personal and business accounts and assets. Another topic covered was Premises Liability, described here. Also covered in that link was the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine (i.e. neighborhood kids see your tractor/pond by the road and decide to play on it). There were also brief discussions on various signs around your property and their actual usefulness, such as: agritourism, no trespassing, and warning. The last bit of advice we received was to be exceptionally careful about operating petting zoos, as they present all sorts of liability issues (once again, consult an attorney).
We briefly covered Record Keeping. More information can be found here.
The final classroom topic of the day was Soil Health. Soil tests, such as the Archuleta Slake Test, can be used to determine how much structure (roots, and whatnot) are holding the soil together, which is an indicator of soil health. Soil health can be improved by planting diverse crops and rotating those crops. This helps replenish nutrients in the soil (e.g. legumes trap nitrogen) and break the life cycle of pests. For those not familiar with the Dust Bowl of the 1930's, it was caused by excessive plowing of virgin topsoil, causing an ecological disaster. Modern farming techniques use several techniques to keep topsoil in place, such as: mulch, cover crops, and tall grass grazing.
After all that classroom time, we were ready for another field trip! We traveled to Blue Yonder Organic Farm. Sara Creech, a fellow Air Force veteran and founding member of Farmer Veteran Coalition of Indiana, runs and owns Blue Yonder. As her website states:
The farm produces a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs, and honey using organic methods.
Sara was gracious enough to host the Armed To Farm crew for an evening cookout and gave us a tour of her impressive farm.
Not shown in the pictures is Blue Yonder's mushroom cultivation area. We had the pleasure to attend a mushroom cultivation training for veterans last year, organized by Sara. A brief introduction can be found here; we used the plug spawn. Perhaps in a later blog we'll cover mushroom cultivation in greater detail.
While at Sara's farm we also heard a presentation on the programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), but that will have to wait until our next post!
Part 2 of Armed to Farm began with a training on farm planning and marketing. For a business to be successful, you have to understand exactly what it is you want the business to do. To that end, we used worksheets to ask questions like:
After visiting the Student Farm, the group traveled to Crowl Cattle Farm. (Sorry, no pictures; just a business card.)
The family farm is run by Cadel and Rebecca Crowl (great hosts; Cadel is also a veteran). They focus on producing high quality beef. They also showed us the NRCS (conservation) improvements they've done to improve the health of their cattle. Record keeping has helped them to accurately determine the most productive mama cows, which in some cases was not what they expected. We got to see their [poop] mountain from the cattle, and how they are planning on turning something they used to give away into sellable compost! We also got to visit their herd in a nearby rented pasture.
In our next blog, we'll cover financing a farm and record keeping, law as is applies to farms, and visit Blue Yonder Organic Farm.
It's been a busy month at Four Flags Farm! As an Air Force veteran, Ben applied and was accepted to a veteran farming training in Crawfordsville, IN, called Armed to Farm, which is provided by NCAT. This training is an opportunity for military veterans to learn about sustainable and organic agriculture, including running a farm business. It was a great experience!
There were a wide variety of veterans in attendance, representing most branches of the military, about equal amount male/female, various ages from late twenties to late sixties, some brought spouses, etc. Veterans got the chance to learn from presenters from several government agencies, currently practicing farmers, and take numerous trips to visit farms.
First the veterans started with a little light reading...
Just kidding! This was the reference material that was provided to the veterans that they can use once they get home.
After introductions, the group learned about the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC). This is a great organization that focuses on helping military veterans who are interested in agriculture. It provides resources for marketing (through Homegrown By Heroes), farming, and business. Additionally, they can provide some financial assistance through their FVC fellowship. Ben is both a member of FVC Indiana and a recipient of the FVC fellowship (gift card to Tractor Supply Co.).
The training then covered several programs offered by the USDA. These programs covered:
After lunch, we went on the road to visit Four Seasons. The market is a venture by four farmer families to provide local food to the Crawfordsville area year round, instead of only during summer. As their website states:
The market offers beef, pork, lamb, chickens, eggs, coffee, homemade heat and serve meals, honey, syrup, and a variety of homemade baked goods.
While at Four Seasons, we discussed how they chose their location, their target customers, their business model, local advertising, division of responsibilities of the owners, as well as a couple of "oh poop" moments, such as when freezers break down and product is lost.
Our final destination was Shannon Family Farms, one of the four farms that runs Four Seasons. Their family farm is a diversified livestock farm raising pork, beef, chicken, and eggs. They are nestled on a beautiful 9 acre farm, including a barn from the late 1800's.
That's it for this post; hope you liked it. Keep checking back for Part 2, when we discuss more classroom topics, the Purdue Student Farm, and Crowl Cattle Farm.
January is not a month that evokes thoughts of preserving local fresh food in most of our country. However, January is a month in which we are consuming quite a bit of preserved foods, as we have less access to quality fresh foods. Now here's where home food preservation comes in for the win! Imagine if you were to preserve your own locally produced foods when it's harvested at peak ripeness then you could consuming quality local food year-round, despite it not being in season. Winner, winner locally produced chicken for dinner!
Preserving your own food is not a difficult undertaking. Once you gain knowledge on the topic as well as invest a bit of your time & money into the task, you are well on you way to consuming a rewarding diet of locally produced products year-round.
There are loads of ways to learn about the topic of food preservation. We are good at seeking out resources and teaching ourselves when we want to learn about new topics of interest. We also enjoy sharing the resources we have utilized. One of the most comprehensive resources we have used for gaining knowledge regarding preserving our own food is The National Center for Home Food Preservation website. Although, when it comes to canning The Ball® Complete Book of Home Preserving is our most trusted and valued resource. However, we do cherish our entire collection of canning/preserving books along with all of the bookmarks & sticky notes in them.
Now, if you are a hands-on learner or would prefer to have a mentor when venturing into new learning experiences we would suggest that you make contact with your local extension office or reach out to a community learning group such as Ladies Homestead Gathering (LHG). Armonda is a member of the Sullivan County Chapter of LHG. She is in the process of working with the board of the Sullivan County Chapter LHG on planning at least one presentation on home food preservation for 2019. Additionally, a "Preserve and Take" workshop is in the works for Fall 2019 as well. However you choose to obtain your knowledge on this subject, doing so is clearly an important and necessary first step that can be super fun and intriguing. Share in the comments if you have any other beloved and trusted resources on home preserving.
Time and money. Our family, as most of you will agree, would like to have more of both. Well, the hard truth is we don't. As a result, we treasure the time and money that we do have. In turn, we consciously choose to fund projects with our time and money based on the value and usefulness that each project will bring to our lives. Home preserving has been one project that we continue to fund with our time and money. We hope that you will also see the value in preserving your own food and give it a go too!
Once you are ready to commit the time & money to the project, you will need to purchase equipment that you may not already own or have access to. There are a plethora of equipment pieces you may need to purchase which might include a dehydrator, containers for freezing, a smoker, a water bath canner, a pressure canner, glass preserving jars, lids, and bands as well as a couple other tools for water bath and pressure canning. What equipment you choose to purchase truly depends on what type(s) of preserving you intend to implement. If you still are not convinced on committing to spending you hard-earned money, especially on the larger pieces of equipment, you could always ask to borrow or rent the equipment from a family member, friend, or neighbor who already owns the equipment. Additionally, you could even pitch in together with one or more of your like-minded peeps to purchase & share a piece of equipment. It's all about what's going to work best for you and your needs.
Now you are ready to put your knowledge and equipment to work for you! Have fun shopping at a farmers market near you and/or growing and harvesting your own food. Using local food is truly the best option when preserving foods. In the end, it is extremely gratifying to preserve and consume the fruits of your labor. Please share with us any of your amazing home preserving recipes. We enjoy hearing from you all!
Have fun looking though the slideshow below of the food we preserved in 2018. Almost all of the food in the pictures either we grew or was grown in a surrounding county.
We often are asked... "What are you guys going to do in the winter?" In turn, we have been using #itswhatfarmersdointhewinter on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram to document what we have been doing over the winter. As a result, we hope that it's clear that we don't get to take the winter off. Oh no! There's really no downtime or "vacay" time here on the farm. We have to-do lists that we know someday will at least get smaller but will never disappear. As mentioned in a previous post, we are doers & as such we will always have a to-do list.
One big to-do list item, well humongous undertaking, for us was producing maple syrup! First off we researched about maple syrup production for at least a year before deciding to give it a go. One great resource was the book Maple on Tap. We then marked some trees on our northern facing hillside last fall before the leaves were all gone. We decided to start our maple syrup production endeavor on the hillside, because we had determined that we were going to set up a gravity tubing collection system for our sap. Then we spent more time & plenty of money purchasing the tubing, collection tank, supplies to build our evaporator setup, & other necessary pieces to produce our maple syrup.
Here's where we got real busy real fast. We follow Indiana Maple Syrup Weekend on Facebook & on February 5th they posted a wonderful video of sap flowing at another Indiana sugarbush location. We were not ready at all to begin collecting sap & knew we were missing out on collecting sap! We immediately went into full gear getting our gravity tubing system set up to collect sap. It took us 3 full days of working 6-8 hours each day to get our tubing system in place & trees tapped before we started collecting sap. Setting up the evaporator came next. We choose to build our evaporator setup to keep our material costs low for this first season. We emulated a rocket stove setup in building our evaporator out of cinder blocks, bricks, & stainless steel steam table pans.
Here are some numbers from our first year sugaring:
Approximately 300 gallons of sap collected
Almost 3 gallons of maple syrup produced
Approximately 175 hours spent sugaring over 6 weeks: 2/7/18-3/22/18
End result is that we succeeded in successfully making maple syrup this year! Future goals for us, while scaling up our production, will include increasing our number of trees & taps feeding into our collection system, purchasing an evaporator, possibly adding on a second collection tank, & possibly adding a vacuum to our collection system.
When you click through the photos below the captions will give you more insight into our sugaring adventure from this year!
Seedlings! This year we used the same setup as last year but upstairs in our garage instead of in our bedroom. The biggest reason for the change of location was our cats. Last year they were super interested in the addition of the vertical space that the tables introduced to them as well as the possibility of green things to munch on. In turn, seed starting will not occur in the house ever again.
We failed to get actual pictures of the seeds in the garage seed starting area this year. However, here are some photos of our planting area plans, seeds we are using this year, as well as the seedlings in the cold frame & out in the field just prior to being transplanted into the ground.
Finally, we shall discuss our efforts in inoculating logs with shiitake mushroom spawn plugs. We have inoculated 36 logs thus far & are waiting for our 2nd batch of spawn plugs to arrive to inoculate more logs. In turn, we are anticipating having 60-70 logs inoculated in total. Additionally, we are thrilled about producing & bringing shiitake mushrooms to the farmer's market starting next spring!
How we got started with our shiitake mushroom cultivation endeavor. In April we participated in a workshop that the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Indiana hosted on cultivating mushrooms. Cultivating mushrooms is part of our agroforestry plan in growing our farm business so we have already determined to cultivate mushrooms. However, attending that workshop spurred us to get going on it ASAP. Additionally, the workshop allowed us to get feedback & first hand information about shiitake mushroom cultivation from other Indiana cultivators as well it gave us resources for the spawn plugs. We also left the workshop with 4 logs that we inoculated at the workshop. It was an extremely impactful day!
For our on-farm inoculating process Ben cut down some trees for us to inoculate from our forested area that we are working on developing into silvopasture. Yeah for forest management! We ordered our spawn plugs from Field & Forest Products. We spent 4 hours inoculating our initial 36 logs. We have another order for more spawn plugs arriving tomorrow & then we'll complete our 2nd round of log inoculations ASAP. If you are interested in learning more about log-based shiitake cultivation check out this PDF from SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education). Otherwise, have fun browsing our photo gallery below for more information on how we inoculated our logs with shiitake spawn plugs.
We are Four Flags Farm, Armonda & Ben Riggs!