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 Farmer Matt sees spring in sight

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Farmer Matt sees spring in sight

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It has been a very productive winter for us. We finished our website www.greenbowfarm.com, worked on some grant proposals, but the majority of it was spent planning our next year, talking about what worked and what didn't, and the new things we want to try out and grow into over the next couple of seasons. Last year we were building up our breeding flock of sheep and figuring out if there was a market for our eggs and poultry so we haven't had much to sell this year, but we will have more than double the amount eggs and meat to sell next year at our farmers markets. Last year we tried a little bit of everything and quickly learned what we wanted to put our time and energy into the most but also keeping the key elements that create biodiversity on the farm. EggsInFridgeIn addition, we spent the winter selling at the West Seattle Farmers Market where we sold our late season pasture raised broiler chickens, all our fall lamb, and of course our pastured eggs. One place where we took a risk was investing a large amount of money to send our lamb pelts off to be tanned and turned into lambskins not really knowing if people would want to buy them. Luckily we were overwhelmed by peoples interest in them so much so that we will probably be selling the one that we were going to keep for ourselves. Believe me it's a good problem to have.  We are enormously grateful to all our wonderful customers and all the feedback they've provided us. It's really hard to imagine farming without the community we have found at farmers markets. This spring, we are getting busy on fencing with help from the NRCS and improving our pastures by finalizing our rotational grazing system. It amounts to dividing our  large pasture with two permanent fence lines. From there we will be able to section off smaller pastures using temporary fencing. This style of rotational concentrated grazing improves soil health and there by grass production. It also greatly benefits the animals by moving them to fresh ground regularly and allowing the chickens to follow cleaning up and sanitizing after the ruminants so that when the cattle and sheep return all the manure they left when they were there before has been scratched out by the poultry and returned to the soil, greatly reducing the risk of parasite infection. It is a symbiotic relationship that regularly occurs in nature and with a little help from temporary electric fencing we are able to mimic it. All of these activities builds soil, builds forage production and protects the health of the soil. In effect, we are grass farmers first and the wonderful beef, lamb, chicken and eggs are simply a byproduct.

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Weather wise, winter didn't seem to show up until February. We had some cold spells, but mountain precipitation was absent and the threat of drought was worrying everyone in the northwest. But at the beginning of February, the high pressure ridge off the coast broke up and brought us winter. The mountains began receiving heavy snow fall. Getting over the pass every Sunday morning for market became challenging as it seemed to snow every Saturday night and into Sunday. Once, I even drove from door to door on snow, getting to the market 100 miles away  and shoveling our booth spot free of snow.

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This week our new apprentices arrive on the farm. Ryan and Crystal found us through a social media site and sent us their letter of interest. After a brief discussion, we invited them to come and stay with us for a few days as a get-to-know-you session. We hit it off famously and invited them to be here for the 2014 season. They are very serious about starting a farm of their own and its that desire to learn by doing that feels like it will be a good fit for our farm. We are very excited to have them here and their presence, I suspect will greatly improve our farm. You'll see them at the markets, so please give them a big "Hello".

Our chicks begin arriving soon and with the break in winter weather the workload will begin to increase rapidly. With a couple of nice days in March I already feel behind on all the repairs and building work that needs to be done. With a growing family and growing farm there really isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel behind on projects but we are hoping to get the boys out with us more often and have more projects be a family affair now that they are getting older.  With a toddler though, that won't always be possible so we'll also try to get some family days squeezed in hiking and camping or just exploring our valley. We have been so busy starting our farm there are still many parts of our valley and surrounding mountains we have yet to explore.

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One Full Year

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One Full Year

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All has been quiet on the blog front but on the farm things keep buzzing along. It's winter so the grass isn't growing, the hoop house is full of chickens so there are no veggies in sight but the laying hens are still giving us eggs and we have a freezer full of grass-fed lamb so we head over every week to the West Seattle Farmers Market. We are so happy to be apart of a very vibrant community of farmers, food producers, and dedicated market shoppers. It's been nice to make connections with people as passionate about healthy food as we are, and it has motivated us to do even more in the coming year. We have also had fun recipe testing and writing so we have recipes to share with market shoppers that work well with our grass-fed lamb. We've tried to find or create recipes promoting the nose to tail eating that we appreciate and also work with cuts that people are unfamiliar with or tend to shy away from.

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Despite having a booth at farmers markets and loyal customers, I still can't quite believe that we made it through one full year of farming. Technically we moved in the year before but we were just fencing and learning how to take care of our sheep so we didn't really feel like full fledged farmers yet. It wasn't until we started having food to bring to markets that it really started to sink in that we did it. We went from city slickers who had a couple raised beds, bee hives, and a gaggle of laying hens to full time farmers with hundreds of chickens, almost 40 sheep, 12 head of cattle in our care, plus turkeys and pigs, and a not so small market garden where we grew an array of fruits and veggies in. It still blows my mind that we produced thousands of pounds of food for ourselves and hundreds of other families with a small amount of resources and only a couple months of interns on the farm. We also finished a quite massive irrigation project in the middle of our growing season and with three little boys under 6 years old it means that Farmer Matt was left with the majority of the work (farm related anyway). So how do we do more and keep a sane family life? The internship model didn't work out because we didn't have the proper amount of time to teach people that had no experience. So for the upcoming season we are hoping to find an apprentice that has at least a couple seasons worth of experience working on farms and is passionate about starting their own farm-- someone who really wants to see and take part in the nuts and bolts of what takes to start a farm from the ground up. Farmer Matt read Joel Salatins' book "Fields of Farmers" and it inspired him to rethink about how we teach on the farm and not give up entirely on helping inspire future farmers. (I am hoping he writes a review of the book for our blog because the model Polyface Farm has could really revolutionize sustainable farming.)

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Our biggest hurdle besides the fact that we have a limited amount of land and hands on the farm is that we have no buildings. There were horse shelters here when we moved in and we modified them so we now store hay there. We built a small three sided shelter for the sheep during the winter and there is one shipping container where we keep tools, poultry feed, and fencing. Spring can have extremely harsh weather in the Kittitas Valley, so last winter and spring we raised our chicks and pullets in our hoop house. We had to move them out early so we could get vegetable starts going and even with many heat lamps set up in the chicken tractor we lost dozens to cold weather. Luckily there is a National Conservation grant for sustainable farms to obtain large hoop houses so we started the process and hope that it might be the answer to our space issues and be a great place to grow even more heirloom tomatoes.

So what are the plans for next season? We are going to double the amount of laying hens we have. People love our eggs as much as we do so we want to try and keep up with demand. We will also raise more Red Rangers chickens and heritage turkeys, not a huge amount but the right amount for our rotational grazing farm model. This year we raised pigs on pasture just for ourselves and one other family but we might raise a couple more next year for sale. We are currently breeding our Scottish Highland Cattle and would love to increase our breeding stock but think we are at capacity to also have enough forage for them through the growing season. I am very excited that sometime in the Fall of 2014 we will have grass-fed beef for sale for the first time.

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Our next big project is to come up with a value added product using the vegetables and herbs we grow that would complement our grass-fed meats and also make our farm more financially sustainable. Small farms like ours that don't have unlimited resources really count on things like jams, hot sauces, and spice rubs to bridge the gap and make farming viable.

I can't list everything we learned this last year but I can show you a little clip of  highlights of our first year of farming.

Looking forward to starting our second year of farming and all the things I am sure we will learn, experience, and enjoy. Happy New Year to you and yours from everyone at Green Bow Farm!

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