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Monday, November 5, 2012

Now What?

After 29 weeks as an apprentice I now have to figure out what to do with all this knowledge and experience I have gained. As of yet the only thing I have truly figured out is that I have a lot left to learn. For the next several months the plan is to work a few days a week at Burge and a few days a week at Crystal Organic Farm.  Long term I hope to find a situation on a small farm where I can take on more responsibility either as an assistant or full fledged farm manager.

I haven't quite decided what format the blog will take from here on or how often I will update it. I would love your feedback. What would you like to know, see or read about?

For now I'll post a bit about my first week as a "professional" farm hand.

Welcome to Crystal Organic Farm!

...where we have Chickens! And this week we got in a shipment of baby chicks. They arrive in the mail, USPS, in a cardboard box with holes. I got to help move them into their new home, 3 large plastic bins in the garage. Each bin has bedding, a feed tray with starter food, a poultry waterer, a screen on top and a heat lamp. They are so cute when they are this little. I took a video for you!

Chick nursery
So. So. Cute.
and Fluffy!


My first day at Crystal was humbling. We harvested all day for Whole Foods, Turnip Truck (a local produce distributor that supplies high end restaurants in Atlanta), and restaurants. The crew at Crystal have been there for years and are real pros. I felt horribly slow but everyone was very gracious and welcoming. I went back on Friday and tried to focus on working faster and more efficiently. I felt good at the end of the day. It may be a while before I can keep up but I have a clear goal of getting faster.

Harvest list

Dried Okra Pods

Pac Choi
Rainbow Chard

Cherry Tomatoes


Back at Burge

At Burge this week I helped harvest for the CSA on Tuesday. I also worked Thursday helping to get things winterized. 
Harvesting Wild Persimmons

Orchard Persimmons

Wild Persimmons
Fall CSA Week 11

We closed the doors on the Hoop Houses that had them. In HH 1 the rolled up doors had apparently trapped hundreds of butterflies whose wings came fluttering down and now litter the ground. It looks like a butterfly bomb went off in there. It would be sad except that I know how much damage their larvae (caterpillars) have caused in this Hoop House. It seems like poetic justice.

Butterfly Bomb

There were literally hundreds

Row covers provide protection from wind and cold

Hoop House Tomatoes


Thursday Ivan, Daniel and I build end caps for the newer Hoop Houses that don't have doors. It is getting cold enough at night now that we are closing the doors to keep the heat in over night.

Left: Done, Right: up next

Wiggle Wire

How it works: We have one large sheet of plastic for each end. There are channels running across the top of the hoop house where you place wiggle wire to hold the plastic in place.

We pulled the center up and placed the wiggle wire, then stretched the bottom, keeping the bottom of the plastic centered, and attached it to the sides. Then we went back up and place the wiggle wire all along the outside edge.

These end caps are in place for the duration of the winter. When it is warm (most days) we will roll the sides of the hoop houses up to allow the wind to cool them. At night we will roll them down to hold the heat in.

Top Center and Sides in place

Happy Halloween!


Rat Trap, complete with victim :(

Sweet Potato Skull Carving by Daniel


Ella and Finn- Carrots and Peas

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Week 29 October 22-27

Week 29 huh? What's so special about week 29? Well, it is my last week as an apprentice at Burge Organic Farm. Don't worry though, I am still on this journey and will continue growing myself as a farmer and lots more good food too. I took Monday off to relax and recoup but Tuesday I will be right back  at it working a few days a week at Burge and a few days a week at Crystal Organic Farm. Check out this link to meet the farmer I will be working with at Crystal, his name is Nicholas Donck.

Here is the news from my last week as an apprentice.


We harvested honey this week, not much but some and it is "muy rico"! 
Here is Claire, the winter apprentice all suited up to go into the beehive. The bees are much more active and on the offensive this time of year because they are protecting the honey they have stored which they need to survive through the winter. They were none too happy that we were there to take some of that honey and you could tell by how loud they were. This foray into the hive was not uneventful. I got a bad sting on my right hand, through my glove, and Cory got a grazed on his wrist. My hand was swollen and itchy for 3 days. We did get a few frames of honey. The video below shows how we cut the cells open with a hot knife to free the honey. Then next step is to spin the trays in a centrifuge which pulls the honey out, then it is strained and bottled.  In the video you see Daniel cutting the comb open and Ivan, an exchange worker from Spain, exclaiming "Muy Rico!" (Delicious!)

Also harvested this week: Zucchini, Squash, Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes, BROCCOLI, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Endive, Winter Radishes, Carrots, Beets, Leeks, Chard, Potatoes and Arugula. 

San Pasqual-Italian Heirloom Zucchini

Broccoli- the stems are SO SWEET!


Production and Distribution

Fall CSA Week 10

This week Cory asked me to write the CSA newsletter which is emailed to all the CSA Members. I have copied it below for your reading pleasure. 
My CSA Newsletter

Hello Farm Friends!
This week’s box includes some of my absolute favorite fall foods.  Before we get to that maybe I should tell you who I am. My name is Erica and I am an apprentice here at Burge Organic Farm. Since the end of March I have been working with Cory, Daniel and a string of other apprentices growing the food that has filled the Spring and Fall CSA boxes. On to the food!  Nothing says fall to me like roasted root vegetables and hardy greens.  Sweet Potatoes, Carrots and Beets can all be cooked sweet or savory either in the oven or on the stove. Collards and Kale stand out as my favorite greens by far. Kale has been popular since Roman times and its cultivation was encouraged in WWII Victory Gardens because it is easy to grow and has exceptional nutritional value. Enjoy this week’s fall harvest and keep reading for a few recipes and my missive from the farm.
In The Box
1# Apples
1 bag Endive Salad Mix
1# Sweet Potatoes
1.5# Winter Radishes
1 bunch Carrots OR Beets
1 bunch Leeks
1/2# Roasted Anaheim Peppers (back due to popular demand!)
1 bunch Collards OR Kale
1# Summer Squash OR Zucchini
1# Eggplant

Recipes and Ideas
Farm Pizza
This is less of a recipe and more of an idea. I borrowed it from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Miracle. It’s a wonderful book on eating local that I highly recommend. In the book Ms Kingsolver and her family have pizza night every Friday. The toppings are always whatever was harvested during the week.  If you are feeling brave you can make your own pizza dough and tomato sauce. With this week’s box I would top my pizza with roasted carrots and beets, grilled eggplant and squash and mozzarella. Or perhaps, sweet potato, apple, sage and Gruyere.  I would also take those roasted peppers and puree them into my tomato sauce.  Play around with it. Pizza can be a great weekly tradition and a fun way to use up leftover bits.
Vegetarian Greens
I fell in love with collards on a visit to Brasil when I was in college. Since then I have given up meat and had to refigure how to cook them without pork. The trick of course is lots of butter and not to over cook. I use the same steps with Collards and Kale.
Wash the leaves and stack them one on top of the other. When you get a good stack roll them up like a carpet and slice into ribbons. Put in a large pot with lots of butter and cook with the lid on until the greens have shrunk considerably and are dark green.
Towards the end add a few tablespoons of imitation bacon bits.  (Even Bacos, they are accidentally vegan!) Cook until you get the consistency you like and serve warm. I could eat greens every night!
Orange-Lime Sweet Potatoes
Here is an actual recipe for you from the 1,001 Low-fat Vegetarian Recipes
Cooking Spray
1 Cup Chopped Onion
1 teaspoon minced Garlic
1 lb Sweet Potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 Cup Orange Juice
¼ Cup Lime Juice
Salt and Pepper, to taste
1.     Spray medium skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat until hot. Saute onion and garlic 3 to 4 minutes
2.     Add Sweet Potatoes and juices to skillet; heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Cook, uncovered, until sauce thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. Season to taste.

On the Farm
The reason I am writing this newsletter today is because it is my last week as an apprentice on the farm. I am writing you with a swollen and itchy right hand, a cut on my finger, a feeling of accomplishment for having made it this far, excitement and anticipation for what is next and a bit of a heavy heart. The hand happened today when I took a bee sting while harvesting honey. The cut happened on the same finger where I got stung but this time while sorting through irrigation equipment.  The sense of accomplishment comes from hours of hard work, which paid off every time we delivered CSA boxes to Atlanta feeding nearly 100 families each week.  The excitement and anticipation is fueled by the fact that while I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do next, I know I want to keep feeding people real local food and feel ready do it. As for the heavy heart, I’ve fallen in love with this farm. For all its challenges, extreme heat, drenching rains, okra related splinters, Atlanta traffic woes, head butting, sunburns, fast markets, slow markets, soar muscles, and blisters I still love it.

Nothing is as fulfilling as starting with a tiny seed, giving it a good home in fertile soil, taking care of its needs providing water, nutrients and room to grow, watching it emerge from the earth and flourish into edible fruit, carefully harvesting it and nurturing your friends and loved ones with the produce of your labor. You as CSA members are automatically included in that group. Because you chose to invest in this farm you also invested in growing a new farmer. Thank you for the opportunity you provided me to learn and practice these new skills here at Burge. I hope you enjoyed every box, tried some new things and found some new ways to eat old favorites.
If you would like to see more about my experiences here at Burge please check out the Blog I have been keeping


Market this week was super fun. I got to work with Elizabeth and Claire. Because we had one extra hand Cory wanted us to have an extra gimmick. Since we are currently harvesting more winter radishes than you can shake a stick at I suggested we do recipe cards and samples to get people excited about them and hopefully to buy them. It worked! We moved a lot of Winter Radishes this week with our Winter Radish Salad.  We sliced the Radishes thin on a mandolin, added apple slices and drizzled on an Orange Basil Vinaigrette made by our own Chef Andrew. 

Happy Radish Family displays the colors of each variety

Salad Samples and Recipe Cards

Market was BUSY


Cory picked up about 3,000 Strawberry plants this week and we transplanted them into Pasture Field using the transplanter. We also transplanted another field of brassicas. 

Greenhouse FULL of Strawberries


The parsnips are coming up nicely and have had a preliminary weeding. 

Compost Galore

I learned how to drive a new tractor this week. Our 1949 Alice Chalmers. Only after the fact did Cory casually mention "that thing could kill you" (Sorry Mom).
We used it to pull out the Okra plants. We would tie 4 or 5 plants in a line to the back of the tractor and pull them out of the ground. Some of the Okra is 16' tall so you can imagine the root systems are very strong. 
Alice Chalmers 20- Okra 0

I spent Monday of this week cleaning and organizing the barn. I realize this may not seem impressive BUT you didn't see it before. If there was one thing about this apprenticeship that drove me crazy it was that the barn was a hot mess and I never had time to fix it. I pleaded with Cory for a chance and he gave me almost 2 full days. I so wish I had before pictures. 

This closet was piled 4' high- no shelves

Added a few shelves to organize the packing supplies

Cleaned and organized the tool area

Farm Life

I spent most of the week with a right hand that looked like a balloon. You can't even see my knuckles. This bee sting was serious. 

Garland brought some deer ribs by for Cory. It's just part of living in the country. 

Random Blimp Fly Over

Scheduled Spiders

Puddy Time

Because the apprenticeship is over Puddy, Sprocket and I have moved back home to Decatur. We will miss Fred's house but Puddy is happy to have her spot on the couch back.