CRAFT day at the farm

May 19, 2011

A group of Island interns and farmers gathered this morning to share, in what is known as CRAFT Farmers.  It is a chance for neighboring farmers and visiting workers on farms to see how other farms are set up and working, to exchange experiential knowledge and get our hands in the soil.  Some farmers on Vashon Island are sowing the seeds of CRAFT with the first meeting this morning at Plum Forest Farm, where Rob and Joanne shared their experience with the farming ethics and economics of sustainable farming through sustaining soil.  In short we talked about poop, or manure…

We are gathered here, near the composting toilet (some of the humanure barrels are behind Rob, to the right).  Their composting toilet is designed with a front funnel, to catch urination into a different bucket below.  Super excited to see this mild tweeking to a system that, because it can’t withstand all the moisture, one is required to pee outside.  The solid waste goes into a barrel, with sawdust added, after you use it.  Once the barrel is full, it takes about two years for the humanure to process, at Plum Forest, they choose to spread it in the fields.

Raising cattle on a small farm:  Rob spoke of the importance of looking at the many qualities of farming with these beautiful creatures and believes the cows are a valuable asset to a small farm.   Here, they live on grass during the grazing season and Alfalfa hay during the winter months.  The two females are the ones with the horns- Highland Cattle-  the red one, in the photo, who is resting is grandmother and mom.  They are very sweet and so large!  The two young ones are a mixed breed.  The milk is used, only for the young.  Rob and Joanne will harvest (slaughter) the two young males this season, sell part of the beef and keep some for their family.  Because they are grass fed, they alternate between different fields, keeping the grass mowed, providing manure for the compost station,  food security and a daily reminder that it is good to find time to sit under a tree and moo.  Below, I will get more into how they work in the compost station.

Chicken tractors:  hand made, and creative- everyone I come across is a telling of the creative force behind the welding torch and hammer!  This one uses to bicycles connected, is a bit tricky to move- but it only needs to move a few feet each day, as the evening roost is in the back end  -with chicken wire below- so the poop drops to the field as they roost.  They have 4 flocks, and Rob feels that chickens are a sustainable economy, for the farm, the feed –In Season Farms- Canada, is organic, and result is compost for soil building.  They farm with an average of 160-170 laying hens, and 60 broilers, plus a small flock of pasture hens that are called the ‘sanitation dept’ ( moved around, as needed to clean areas affected by insects etc.) . Each flock has a rooster, to warn of danger, especially eagle, when overhead.  Egg collection is 3 times a day, and staying consistent with the collection times is important, there is one hen that will start breaking eggs, if they are left in the coop too long.

Composting station/ barn:  This is an exciting new addition to the farm.  Rob worked with King County to demonstrate how farmers can keep manures out of the ground water when composting-  Best Management Practice provided the guidelines for this project, and Rob received partial funding to realize this dream.  There are three large stalls, made of concrete, and the section between barn and these stalls is concrete.  The green material we weed from the beds is added to this concrete floor, along with the cow and chicken manure and larger unfinished compost material from the stalls as we harvest.  this layering is mashed and mixed as the cows walk freely in this area.  A small bulldozer is then used to mix and turn, and transport to one of the stalls.  The working compost piles will be turned, regularly, with the bulldozer during the processing cycle.  A beautiful example of a small farm closing the loop, and working, proactively to sustain the farm, by sustaining the soil!

At the end of the compost system tour, all pitched in to weed the asparagus bed and share stories!  A very inspiring morning.  Thank you Rob and Janne, for all that you are teaching, by doing.



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