(a look behind the scenes at Front Porch Farm)
originally published in the North Columbia Monthly, February 2014, Volume 20 Issue 9
So what do farmers do in the winter, anyway?
It’s the most frequently asked question we get as the Northeast Washington Farmers Market draws to a close each year. Especially farming here where it can snow in April and frost in August.
Just because the farmers market season is over doesn’t mean your local farmers aren’t hard at work. Here are just a few of the things we do at Front Porch Farm each winter.
Our store Front Porch Antiques and Produce stays open along Highway 395 until right before Christmas. So our year doesn’t end until long after the first killing frost. Even though December finds us exhausted, we try to have a family meeting while the busy season is still fresh in our minds. We talk about what we want to continue and what we want to do differently next year. We talk about schedules and commitments and how to get the most return for our effort. Our farm is made up of 5 households–15 people–so not only do we have a lot of opinions to bring to the table, but we have a lot of different talents and abilities to channel appropriately. That takes time and willingness to listen and learn.
No one can afford to have a break-down in the middle of July. That means going through all the equipment meticulously when it’s not farming season so that it will work when it is needed. There are filters and fluids to change, fittings and hoses to check, and a list of non-emergency repairs that we’ve noticed all summer but haven’t had time to fix. Not all equipment failures are avoidable, but we do the best we can to make sure our tractors and implements are ready for the coming of the busy spring.
This fall and winter members of our farm have attended the Cultivating Success Small Farms class by the WSU Extension, certification classes, farmers market meetings, Stevens County Farm Bureau meetings, Washington State Farm Bureau Convention, Washington State Haygrower’s Association meetings, and more. Knowing market trends and continuing to learn more about our focus in agriculture are important to maintaining productive farming and marketing practices.
When we needed to replant the north alfalfa field this last summer, we couldn’t just buy alfalfa seed. We needed to know which variety out of the hundreds would be best for our climate, irrigation, soil, hay cutting schedule, etc. Successful harvests require hours of research before the seeds are even purchased, let alone planted.
We can’t just buy all our seeds whenever the weather looks good for planting. Some of the seeds and supplies we use have to be ordered months in advance. Again, there are countless seed catalogues to peruse, last year’s records to reference, and orders to be placed early to beat the rush and avoid backorders.
We start our plants in compressed soil blocks to ensure the plant has just what it needs to start and minimize shock when transplanting. By mid-February we’re mixing soil, making soil blocks, and planting our first seeds. That way we have healthy young plants ready to plant in the greenhouses as soon as it’s warm enough. And, as soon as the Northeast Washington Farmers Market opens, we’ll have vegetable starts ready for you to buy and plant!
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone has snowy driveways to plow and bookwork to do before tax time comes. Not to mention cleaning our homes and catching up on all the projects that got delayed until winter. Because, of course, all summer we trick ourselves into thinking we’ll have lots of time in the winter, that things will go at a slower pace in January. It’s the only way we get through the summer, but when winter finally arrives, we wonder what happened to our slower pace. Especially when our “time off” becomes time to travel to see our relatives. Because family sort of learns not to come visit in the summertime unless they want to be put to work.
So yes, we’re enjoying our winter. But no, we’re not bored, thank you for asking. These months provide just enough of a change of pace that we are already looking forward to spring. We’re brainstorming new display ideas for our booth at the Northeast Washington Farmers Market, selling winter vegetables and fruit online through Northwest Farm Fresh, and counting down the days until the first market days of the season.