2009: A Year in Review

It was written somewhere that people who are not students of the past are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over. From that I would extrapolate that successful organic farmers must fall somewhere between Pulitzer Prize winning historians and Nobel Laureates. Note: I said successful farmers, not neophytes like us. We close out our third year of growing for market and are amazed at how much we have accomplished and how much we have learned.

Looking back over the year we have had an interesting mix of both anticipated harvests and the some quite unexpected success. An abundance of great early spring spinach was the result of hard earned lessons of the previous year. Giving the kitchen over to 17 flats of various squashes to get a jump start yielded an incredible crop of summer and winter beauties. Then the extremely early and unexpectedly hot, dry spring while devastating to tomatoes and peppers, got the onions bulbing and allowed the garlic to develop large wonderful cloves. And the improving garden soil was finally able to grow whopper leeks.

We have had a good share of disasters too, but these always take us by surprise. Our part of the state continued on under severe drought conditions and despite the drip irrigation we installed, the effects were felt deeply. Stressed, unhappy plants just do not produce very well. The only crop that truly prospered under those conditions were the stink bugs (green and brown varieties and some purple from sucking the blackberries), wire worms, leaf footed bugs, grasshoppers, potato beetles, cucumber beetles, cabbage loopers ,fireants and the running ants that ate the figs. I don’t think anyone plants a seed expecting failure. Why anyone without a basically optimistic nature would attempt farming is a mystery. If you really do not believe that you will be able to harvest an edible crop, it would make more sense to go to a casino to throw away your money and skip the hard work.

We, at Knopp Branch Farm, believe the seeds we plant will sprout and bear fruit. Not only will we feed our family, but the fruits and vegetables will be so wonderful, people will want them enough to actually pay us for them. That is a real kick!

Looking back at 2009, what have we learned? We will never again use alfalfa hay as a mulch. The resulting plagues of blister bugs and click beetles were positively biblical. We will not crowd the tomatoes and we will never, ever plant sweet potatoes among okra. And the first sign of opossum or raccoon in the melon patch will trigger an all out total war. No period of negotiation, no attempt at appeasement, no search for compromise. We will treat vermin like vermin: rabbit stew and roasted squirrel to be part of the spoils of war.

Farming is not an avocation to be judged worthwhile based solely on a balance sheet. Living on the land and building a sustainable business model is as much of a lifestyle choice as it is a financial investment. We intend to make this work for our family. While we are clawing our way out of the red zone and into the black, you will be seeing Knopp Branch Farm at the market more often in this New Year. We are very excited about the variety of vegetables we have growing and the ones for which we have started the seed trays in the well house and the new greenhouse, not the kitchen, this season. Already that represents an incredible leap forward. We really believe wonderful things are going to be happening this coming year on our hard scrabble farm.

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