organic agriculture

The Dancing Farmer: Honor System

 

Welcome to part II of our blog post on our road side farm stand.  We hope to share some insights into effectively running an unmanned roadside stand to sell your produce, meat, preserves, wood crafts, or any other item fit for roadside commerce.  Our roadside stand has been a blessing to our small diversified family farm operation.

Our roadside stand runs on the honor system.  We do not hire anyone to stand and exchange money, rather we trust our farm supporters to pay the asking price into an honor box, which is under lock and key.  When your hunger for vegetables grown without the use of pesticides,  herbicides, and chemical fertilizers brings you to The Dancing Farmer farm stand at MacCurdy Farm the first thing you will notice is the absence of any workers in it.  Do not be alarmed, we have a system in place.  The honor system.

The decision to employ the use of the honor system was born out of necessity as we needed to allocate money towards infrastructure and operating costs for the first year of small fruit and vegetable production on the farm however, charity is very much an aspect of the system because we want to see people eating well as well as make them feel trusted.  At the moment we employ pickers and farm hands when needed but we couldn’t justify paying someone to work the stand 10 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week.  After a little research online and some conversations with food conscious people about the honor box system use in other parts of our country, we decided to go ahead and try it out.  We had nothing to lose.

chalkboard-price-list

Our prices are listed on the chalkboard on the wall as well as marked on any packaged produce items.  A customer simply has to do the math.  Time to put those math skills you told your middle school math teacher you’d never use to work.  To keep things simple, our prices go to the 50 cent of a dollar.  We use competitive pricing bearing in mind that we charge a premium on most of our products as they are all grown according to organic principles.  However, we understand that times are tough in our economically challenged area so we try to keep our prices affordable so that everyone can eat healthy in our region.  You can always pay more if you feel the prices are too low but we ask that everyone please honor the asking price.  From time to time we have talked to people who were a little short on change.  We’ve told them to simply pay the difference the next time they pass by.  On a couple occasions patrons have brought the money they owed to our booth at the Restigouche Farmer’s market.  That’s honesty! We love it.

built-in-honor-box

Honor Box Code

Pay the asking price

If you are short on change, pay the difference the next time.

Cash only.

Place unwanted greens/bad veggies in compost pale

Spread the word.

Feel free to leave comments.

We’re watching you, just kidding, we trust you.

This year we stocked the produce stand with the following items: Strawberries, lettuces, spinach, rainbow swiss chard, radishes, tomatoes (different varieties), hot peppers, green peppers, carrots, beets, kale, dill, field cucumber, English cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, yellow beans, pickles, assortments of herbs, and hanging wave petunia baskets.  Everything sold well with little waste.  Any waste (swiss chard, tomatoes, lettuces) went to the pasture turkeys and chickens as an added source of nutrients.  Minimizing nutrient loss is essential.  Given the location of our farm stand at the base of the farm lane, we restock, empty the honor box, and check the shelf life of the produce periodically through out the day.  We plan on expanding the variety next year.  After a few conversations we made note of some regional culinary favorites that we will grow next year, which included potatoes, onions, zucchini, squash, and corn.  Regretably we only grew some of these items for family consumption this year.

Although work takes us many other places around the farm we always take time to stop and chat with customers especially if we feel they might have questions or have some confusion over how it all works.  A small diversified farm has a steady stream of jobs and tasks, much like the old time homesteaders, but much of our operation is set up within sight of the stand so we are always handy unless we are on our hay, garden, or woodlot acreage.  Availability of produce items is indicated in hand painted wooden signs attached to the exterior of the stand.  As items come in to season, the signs go up on to the wall.

As with any new venture, there is always room for improvement.  Next year we will increase our signage on the sides of the building.  We will have to level off the site with pea gravel as mud and wet became an issue this year.  Improved shelving and a double bi-fold door will also be an upgrade.  Currently, we stock the stand in the morning and bring back into store every night.

For more information on the story, you can check out an article by Bridget Yard of CBC on the Dancing Farmer.

Categories: Agricultural Awareness, Bay of Chaleur, family farming, farming, Food Awareness, four season farming, organic agriculture, organics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Grazer Dome

On MacCurdy farm we try to maximize the power of the sun by getting all of our animals on pasture. With a fleet of pastured poultry pens (chicken tractors) already in action, it was time to get our turkeys onto pasture with the good ol’ fashioned grazer dome raising.

Turkeys, depending on the quality of pasture, can meet up to 70% of their dietary needs from pasture.  At present we don’t do a rotation with cattle. Instead, we harvest a first cut off of our hayfields nearest the farm and then start our meatking chickens and commercial turkeys onto pasture.  We have used Joel Salatin’s golden ratio by housing turkeys with meat chickens with some level of success but this year we felt it was time to construct a new type of housing for our turkey poults.  Generally, one would keep young poults inside the grazer dome only until they are aerial predator proof at which point the dome becomes enclosed by our poultry netting so they can get out and get working on naturally fertilizing our hayfields.

We pride ourselves on being erudite in all aspects of preparation and decision making concerning our animals so I set out earlier this summer to a farm in Colpitts Settlement, just outside of Riverview, NB for some networking and to pick up my favorite breed of heritage chicken, the Delaware.  Maplehurst farms, owned and operate by the Beatons, had a beautiful pasture based rotational operation in place in their picturesque slice of heaven.  After a tour of their pasture and some introductions to their Berkshire pigs and Dexter cattle, I found myself intrigued by a portable hoop house design that they were currently housing turkeys in.  My project gears immediately started to turn at the sight of the housing on skids.  “How am I going to find the time to build this?” I thought to myself. After, an exchange of emails, Jason shared the materials list along with pictures and other bits of advice on his Facebook page that set the project into motion. I attribute the design of the grazer dome to the Beatons and a book entitled, “Chicken Coops: 45 building ideas for housing your flock“.

Grazer Dome

Grazer Dome

I have a tendency to apply a twist to projects to make them unique to MacCurdy Farm but I made very little alterations with this project.  However, I will highlight those aspect of the grazer dome that are different than the ones at Maplehurst farms to show you other options in building the turkey grazer domes.

The Skid

As with most projects, you build from the ground up.  However, after calling around to local hardware stores I determined that 16′ 4″ x 4″ lumber only came in treated form, which we do not use on the farm.  Option B, fire up the Stihl chainsaw and cut down four straight cedar trees, delimb, and truck them to a local saw mill.  For a small price I had two 16′ 4″ x 4″s and two 10′ 4″ x 4″ along with two 16′ 1″ x 4″s sawn up.  On the two 16′ pieces you will need to angle the ends to create a skid plate on each piece.  I measured 6″ back from the top and then plumbed to the bottom.  Next, measure 2 inches down from the front of the piece.  Finally, using your speed square or a straight edge, connect both marks to form your cut line.  I used a chainsaw to make a clean cut.  After arriving back at the farm, I quickly trimmed the 4 x 4 lumber to length and then laid them out in a rectangle with each corner propped up on two foot 4 x 4 blocks.  With a cordless drill, I first predrilled three holes at each corner with a 6″ 1/2″ bit.  Working solo, this allowed me to bring about a tight and properly aligned fit between the 16′ and 10′ four by fours.  I used three 6″ by 5×8″ lag screws on each corner.  Afterwards, I took four pieces of 4 x 4 and using a speed square made two 45 degree cuts to create a corner brace for each corner.  Using the speed square to bring the corner into square, I then used 4″ galvanized spiral nails to secure the corner braces.  You will use the same type of bracing to plumb the corners of the side walls except you will use 2 x 4 in place of 4 x 4.

I chose to go with 24″ studs on the side walls, which equates to a 32.5″ jump for the turkeys to get onto the roosts.  You will require approximately 140 linear feet of 2 x 4 to complete the side walls, which does not include the end framing.  An additional 50 linear feet for end framing would suffice, but I just used old 2 x 4 hanging around the farm.  I always take the approach of using left over materials on previous jobs to finish new projects.  I placed vertical studs at 4′ on centre on each 16′ side and at 2′ on centre on the 10′ end walls.  The fewer studs used will allow more air to pass through the fenced in side walls.  The opening in the door is 32″ between each jack stud to allow sufficient space for several chickens, turkeys, or pigs to cross the threshold at once.  These structures can be used for varying purposes on your small scale family farm.

GRazer dome framing

Grazer dome framing

Use 1/4″ or 1/2″ hardware cloth that has been galvanized after the weld around the side walls. I use a 3′ roll around the completely perimeter of the structure, only cutting out the piece over the door opening.  On the ends, you can use chicken wire above the hardware cloth.  You can use a staple gun or hammer in small fencing staples.  A slight overlap onto the 4 x 4 skid is suggested.

End Framing

End Framing

The grazer dome is equipped with a 1/4″ braided metal cable.  First use your cordless drill with a 1/2″ wood bit to dril out a hole on the front 4 x 4.  Push the 1/2″ eye bolt through the openings on either side and place a washer and nut over the ends.  Tighten.  Outside, thread about 8 – 10 inches of the metal cable through the eye bolt.  Using cable clamps, tighten the cable clamp over the loop ends that you have formed.  The grazer dome is now ready to be pulled with a tractor or truck or team of horses.  It’s your choice, really.  If you happen to pull transports for sport, this is an option as well.  Just saying.

Braided metal tow cable with cable clamp

Braided metal tow cable with cable clamp

Rebar Ribs

Take all 5 of your 20′ length 3/8″ rebar and cut them to a length equivalent to half of the circumference of a circle with a 10′ diameter, or in my case a 10’6″ diameter.  Input your number into C = pi (3.14) x diameter and then half your result to achieve the required length of your rebar.  With a cut-off blade on a grinder, cut the pieces to length.  I did it on a hot day so I kept a pail of water close by in case a spark caught anything on fire.  Prior to installing the dome ribs, first equip the cordless drill with a 1/2″ wood drill bit.  At four inch intervals drill a hole at a depth of 1″ into the top plate of the side wall.  You will need to drill 10 holes.  Good math, right!  Ideally, find an accommodating person to assist you in placing the rebar into the predrilled holes.  If that said person is nowhere to be found, place the end of one side of the rebar into the hole and gently walk your hand up the rebar until you have created a semi-circle to bend the rebar into the hole on the opposite side wall. Do this five times.  Next, set the 4′ side of the remesh along the side wall and tie at multiple locations on each rebar until it is securely fastened.  Cut metal wire to 4″ lengths in advance, which you will use to attach the remesh to the rebar.  A simple pair of pliers or vice grips will work to twist the two ends together.  Bend the ends at the top of the dome downward to avoid creating rips and tears when the tarpaulin is pulled over the dome.  Once all 8 sheets of remesh have been securely fastened to the rebar ribs, take some 2″ screws and screw them in at an angle over top of the rebar entrance into the side wall.  One screw at each hole will suffice.  On the end framing, you can also use the cordless drill to install screws to keep the rebar ribs in place over top of the framing.

rebar screw

rebar screw

Blue or Green

Chose a colored tarp to impede some of the sun light.  Shade is a necessity for birds in the field.  The tarp will act to provide shade and shelter from rain.  I went with a 20′ x 20′ tarp as I hope to create a roll up side wall in the future.  Positioning and securing the tarp to the side wall will require an additional person or two.  Gently zigzag the tarp over top of the dome until it is evenly divided.  Using the 16′ 1″x4″ pieces of cedar, screw into the 1 x 4 over top of the tarp and into the side wall on one side of the grazer dome.  Do the same on the other side.  At this point, you can grab a pair of scissors or a utility knife to cut off the excess tarp or do as I did and roll it up on the ends where you will sandwich the tarp between boards cut to fit inside of the contour of the end wall.  Screw through the boards over top of the rolled up tarp into the end framing.  This will provide anchoring for the tarp on all four sides of the structure.

All tarped up and ready to go

All tarped up and ready to go

The Doors

Human entry at the front, turkey door at the back.  I won’t bother to give dimensions with the door, but take care to leave a 1/2″ of space between the width of the door and the width of the opening so that the door closes without jamming.  I double latch the door at the same height at the T hinges.  A quick google seach of barn doors or a look at my photos will set you on the right track.  We’ll be adding a sliding turkey door between two of the wall studs at the rear in the near future.  This will allow the turkeys to come and go from the dome with more facility.

Roosts

Turkeys, like other birds, prefer to roost in the night time.  I fitted the grazer dome with two roosts supported by angle braces on either side.  They bear all 200 lbs of farmer MacCurdy plus some.  In my opinion, it is essential to include angle braces if you are housing larger birds.  I always enjoy having a staring competition with the birds while they are on the roosts.  They usually give me a look that I anthropomorphize into curiosity.

Modus Operandi

It is best to move the grazer dome when the manure application inside of it covers the better part of the pasture.  We currently move the dome after 48 hours in one place.  We undo the poultry netting, move the s17 solar charger to the next location, drag the grazer dome to it’s new piece of salad bar, reposition the poultry netting, and lead the turkeys to the next rotation.  Lots of feeders, waterers, and the occasional greenhouse lettuce or edible weeds treat keeps the turkeys happy.  Not to mention they are free to explore the expanse of their surroundings visually, run around their portable enclosure, and, when the opportunity arises, chase Farmer Mac’s children into a flight of fear…haha. Turkeys are remarkably clever, communal, and tasty.  Support your local farmers and get out and visit a small local family farm when you have the chance.

Materials List

2 16’ 4*4
2 10’ 4*4
2 8’ 4*4 for cross bracing the sled
8 sheets 4*8 remesh
5 20’ lengths of ½’ rebar
A roll of rebar wire tie
A tarp at least 16’ * 16’
12 5/8” by 6” lag bolts with washers
Bag of screws or nails
If you want to build a wall some more 2*4 will be required
Also some more lumber to board in the ends

Categories: Bay of Chaleur, farming, livestock, organic agriculture | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Taigh-ghlainne: Our first greenhouse

In the fall of 2014, after a successful summer of pastured poultry, we decided to re-invest our earnings into further diversifying our family farm.  A greenhouse seemed like the next logical step.  I decided to do a google search of different greenhouse manufacturing companies like Rimol in New Hampshire.  We felt the prices were a bit outside of our price range and then we happened upon a “choosing the right greenhouse” article on ACORN.  This set the ball in motion to purchase our greenhouse from http://multisheltersolutions.com.

Greenhouse and pastured poultry pens on a Sprinter day

Greenhouse and pastured poultry pens on a Sprinter day

We decided to strategically place our greenhouse close to dad and mom’s house.  We leveled a large mound of topsoil to fit the dimensions of our greenhouse, 52′ long x 2o’ wide.   The topsoil had sat there since 1986 when it was removed from the site of where my childhood home was built.  I know, providence, right? This location would allow us to have a water supply, future connection to the grid, a prepped planting site, and the green house in direct view from the home. A small bulldozer leveled the topsoil to dimensions slightly larger than green house frame.

Let there be dirt...beneath greenhouse plastic

Let there be dirt…beneath greenhouse plastic

With pick axe, I dug out the trenches to place the 6″ x 6″ pieces of cedar.  It took a fair amount of digging and readjusting but I took the time to give the greenhouse a proper base.  Each 6 x 6 was anchored to the ground by using two T-posts per length of 6 x 6. Using a maul, the T posts were hit into the ground at an angle to help resist the lifting force. The soil was leveled and tamped.  Before moving on to the next step, we checked for square by pulling tape on diagonals.  They were within a couple inches of each other.   Success! We installed the base brackets at 4′ widths, starting the first a couple inches in from the end.  It was helpful to use a socket in our 18 V power drill to accelerate screwing the lag screws to the sill.  Once this is done, it becomes increasingly difficult to do it alone.  Thankfully, Jon helped attach the ribs/hoops to the ridge frame.  Having a set of scaffolding positioned beneath the ridge, helps with speed screwing the hoops to the ridge and the ridge to the ridge connectors.  I should mention that I used ratchet straps coming off the end hoops to plumb the hoops.  This is absolutely necessary to avoid problems with your end framing and should be done before a few set of hoops are erected.  We taped each ridge connection and filed off a burr or two as we went.

Corner purlins

Corner purlins

Brackets for roll up side

Brackets for roll up side

Finished? Not even close. We continued to follow the manual provided by multishelter solutions and tackled the purlins next.  We did not order cross ties, as they were not recommended, but purlins were a must.  These four bars, two on either side, spanned two sections of hoops starting above eye level on the corner and angling down towards the base.  The rigidity of the structure increased significantly from this point.  (Purlins are meant to counteract head winds that blow against the ends.)  With this step covered, the most time consuming step, in my opinion, was next. We ordered roll up sides so that meant cutting lengths of two by four to fit between the hoops.  The hoops are secured to the frame using brackets similar to the base brackets.  Speed screw from each side into the side of the hoop to secure the 2 x 4.  Once this is done, screw pieces of 1 x 1-3/4″ strapping along the top of the outside of the length of the side mount.

Roll up the side

Roll up the side

South side, sunny side.

South side, sunny side.

Instead of using wirelock, we decided on using some of our strapping that we had cut off the farm in an effort to reduce costs. The plastic installation followed.  I would have preferred to have done this in the fall, however, given our heavy snowfall winter, it was probably best that we waited until Spring, slushy Spring. We decided to call in some Fofs, friends of the farm, and we had a new-fashioned greenhouse covering.  Or something like that.  A group of 7 mild-mannered and helpful people was exactly the right amount of people to secure the plastic.  We began by unrolling the plastic alongside the length of the greenhouse, tied each end with lengths of bailer twine that we tied together and then, in a zigzag motion, slowly pulled the first cover over the hoops.  We temporarily secured the plastic to the base at 3 points on each side of the length of the greenhouse.  First, we installed a piece of wire lock on both sides of the end hoops to secure the plastic lengthwise. The wire lock tracks, previously installed prior to pulling the plastic over the hoops, allows us to zig zag feed the wire into the track to tighten and secure the plastic.  The next step involved pulling the second layer of plastic over the hoops, but not as taught as the first layer.  Using strapping, previously preset with screws, we fastened the strapping to the 2 x 4 side mounts the entire length of the green house on both sides.  Using ladders, on uneven ground, I then set out to install the wirelock on the ends with the help of our FoFs. The roll-up sides had to be installed next.  Sections of galvanized piping are connected to run the length of the greenhouse.  The plastic is fastened to the pipes by being sandwiched between the pipe and aluminum pipe strapping with speed screws.  A series of screw eyes are installed in an alternating fashion onto the side mount and the base as nylon rope is weaved through them to keep the roll up sides tight to the hoop framing.  I have to say that this feature is an absolute necessity for regulating temperature and air flow.  Not to mention it gives our neighbours, human and animal, a chance to peer into the living world of the greenhouse.

Getting pumped up for pumpkin planting

Getting pumped up for pumpkin planting

In ground direct seeding has begun

In ground direct seeding has begun

Today I found myself face to face with a diminutive emerald green ruby throated adult male hummingbird.  He struggled mightily to escape through the plastic so I used a spaded shovel to usher him to the end with the sliding door and eventually, after about 15 minutes, I was able to guide him to the open sliding door and see him speed away.  The roll up sides sometimes allow other members of the animal kingdom into our growing space so we close them during the cooler night time hours when some animals are actively searching for food.  On either end of the greenhouse we will be installing gable vents above the doors.  Our door on the east end allows me to keep an eye on traffic going to the farm and is positioned on the end with the prevailing wind.  We will be installing a door on the opposite end as well after we have landscaped and planted grass and perennial flowers along the sides of the greenhouse.  Shade loving plants on the north side, sun loving plants on the south side, and shrubs on the ends.  Our plan is to plant pollinator-friendly plants and flowers around the greenhouse to bring a vivacious buzz to surroundings. The overall plan of our greenhouse is to bring an improved aesthetic to the farm, grow food for our family, community, region, local school children, and supporters of local naturally grown food using beyond organic growing principles.  Sustainability remains the fundamental goal of our farming pursuits as we continue to diversify our operation as well as providing opportunities for future generations on MacCurdy Farm.

Hard at work on her own will

Hard at work on her own will

Categories: farming, four season farming, organic agriculture | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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