I met Joseph through another farmer that couldn’t make the market fit into her schedule. He and his wife Abbie run Valley Spirit Farm with another married couple, Caleb and Kelly. We made the 40 minute trek to visit their farm on Memorial Day, because like me farmers don’t get the day off. Caleb provided the tour and he talked about their families’ farming experiences and about the future vision for their farm. They are considering becoming Certified Organic, but it takes three years to properly complete all the rigorous steps. At this point they follow organic guidelines and keep careful documentation so that when they are ready for that step, their paperwork will be in place.
After our initial introductions, I spied his shiitake mushrooms. I have raised them myself and they are quite easy to grow, so I was quite impressed with the hardwood logs that lined the fence row. We then started our tour of the farm. The 118 acres that they work was remote enough that it made us feel like we were on a safari, in search of wild animals. We drove into the middle of the property, so that we could get an idea of the expanse of the four fields that they rotate. Caleb has to pull up the stakes and move the electric fence every four days, so that the grass stays a little higher and the cows’ hooves will encourage better growth of the grasses. I asked what they do when a cow gets sick. These are questions that I have to ask when we are considering the farming practices of our future farmers at the Louismill Anchorage Farmers’ Market. He told me that because they rotate the fields so often and they have chosen their stock carefully, it is rare that their cows get sick. If they do, they call a vet and if there is a course of action that falls within the organic certification guidelines, they treat as such. If not, they might be eating a lot of hamburger.
On our way across the field to see the cows, we stopped at the garden. We hopped out to take pictures and many of the greens were covered by row covers, to keep pests out. He told me they also place a large silage tarp over the garden for several weeks which encourages weeds to germinate, but as there is no light they cannot grow. For other pest control, they use a bacterium that is approved for organic use and diatomaceous earth (which is a naturally occurring soft sedimentary rock that cuts the exoskeleton of pests). when he uncovered the lettuce, I fell in love. It was the most beautiful, colorful and textural lettuce I have ever seen. I guess I should have eaten a leaf, but I was awe-struck. There were rows of lettuce and many Cole family crops growing.
As we continued on the tour we drove by a small apple orchard, Mulberry trees, Blackberry brambles and lastly to the paddock where the cows were grazing. Did you know that a cow has the same gestation period as a human? I thought since they were such big creatures it took longer. Did you also know that it takes almost two years or longer for a cow to reach the weight for market? I’m thinking Caleb is going to be moving those fences a lot… We saw the mama cow with her baby and there were quite a few pregnant mamas. They plan to keep much of their stock to increase the herd.
On our way back to the house, we passed where the future garden will be with starts of tomatoes and lots of other summer plants. Fenced in pastures close to the barn hosts their rotation of pastured pigs. I was so grateful Caleb took the time to speak with me about their farming practices and it gave me a better appreciation of how hard a farmer has to work to raise the herds and crops. We are very excited that Valley Spirit Farm will be joining us most Saturdays at the market.