Hi Friends & Farm-ily,

We hope this newsletter finds you all doing well!  Thank you to all our amazing CSA-ers for your support,  encouragement and positive feedback in the Facebook group, in-person and through emails.  It’s been awesome to see what everyone has been making with all the bounty the past month!  

It’s been a busy couple of weeks on the farm.  Every day seems to be more productive than the last and we find ourselves working 12-16 hour days 7 days a week (though we’re trying to take a half day to rest if we can).    We’re not the only ones though!  Many of the farmers we follow on instagram and our fellow farmer friends are all in the same boat.  These are some long almost-summer days for us farmers.  When the to-do list is growing ever so long with irrigating, trellising, endless mowing, preparing new ground (fertilizing/amending, tilling, making beds etc), seeding new successions of crops, planting all the things, weeding all the things and of course, harvesting all the things!  As the to-do lists grow we feel better (mentally and physically) than we have compared to any other season.

Although the work days are still long, we do feel like we’re moving in the right direction this year as far as workload goes by dialing in our systems, building infrastructure and investing in tools that help to get the job done and ultimately improve our quality of life!  I thought it would be fun to share some of the improvements we’ve made over the last few years as we’re pretty excited about how they are all coming together for us this season!

New farmer to farmer podcast:  Click on the link to give it a listen: http://www.farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/workinghands

First, we are REALLY excited to share that we had the incredible opportunity to be invited back for round 2 of the Farmer to Farmer Podcast with Chris Blanchard.  This episode(#123) takes place 18-months after our first interview (#40) and we discuss many of the big changes we have made on our farm.  We believe the Farmer to Farmer Podcast is making a huge difference in the lives of farmers and consumers. Click on the link to give it a listen: http://www.farmertofarmerpodcast.com/episodes/workinghands or find it on iTunes as episode #123!

From the Farmer to Farmer website, “In this episode, we revisit Jess and Brian Powers at Working Hands Farm, eighteen months after they were first on the show on Episode 040. Since the fall of 2015, Working Hands Farm has gone through some significant changes and phenomenal growth on their property in Hillsboro, Oregon, just outside of Portland on the north end of the Willamette Valley.

Jess and Brian have gone from raising four acres of vegetables in 2015 to eight acres now, and have expanded their on-farm CSA to cover 48 weeks of the year – all with just the two of them, plus the recent addition of a part-time employee. In the past year, they’ve gotten out of the livestock business to focus on their produce business, standardized their farming operations, and made significant investments in machinery and infrastructure on their farm. We dig into all of these changes and the rationale behind them, as well as how the changes are helping them to face the extreme wet-weather challenges they’ve faced this year.

When I interviewed Jess and Brian the first time, it was clear that although they were working insane hours, they found ways to emphasize and build their personal relationship, so we also come back to how they’ve continued to nurture their love for each other alongside of their professional and business development.”

The rainy and cooler Spring has been awesome for growing lots of spinach and broccoli, other summer loving crops like the summer squash are growing slowly but surely!

We’ve made some transitions, investments and adjustments on the farm the last few years that have helped to make farming more sustainable (over the long haul) for 2 people.  Having the red pole barn has been one of the best investments we’ve made on the farm.  It’s been a dream of ours to have our wash/pack, cooler, pick up and winter storage area in the same building and now that we have it we are asking ourselves how we ever managed without it?!  It improves efficiencies ten fold, gets the produce chilled quicker and provides a nice area for our awesome members to pick up in!  Having a building with concrete floors means we can use things like pallet jacks and carts with wheels to move things too and fro which has made the lifting part of harvesting a lot less tiresome.  Before when we were moving produce from the cooler (in the middle of the farm) to the front pick up area and back and it was easily 8+ times that we were lifting all the produce… now it’s just a fraction of that amount and most of the time it’s being rolled on a cart!   (*Farmers could be called “professional material handlers”)

Weed management.  “Weed the soil, not the crop”  We’re really dialing in systems on the farm that get us ahead of the weeds rather than swimming in them… weed management is one of the number one things on the farm… without it there is crop loss and damage, harvest gets slowed down and so does washing and packing.  This season we’ve been getting a lot of weeding done with our Kult Kress Finger Weeder Cultivating implement (you can see it in action here:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BUzUJjHlYFN/?taken-by=workinghandsfarm)  The idea is you operate the Finger Weeder about 5-7 days after transplanting before you can ever really see the weeds (you might not be able to see them but they are there!).  The beauty of this implement is that the fingers go right around the plant and get all the “in-row” weeds.  Each cultivating sweep has it’s own gauge wheel which is awesome for our more “hilly land” (not perfectly flat) and it moderates it’s own depth as you fly down the row.  We’re still getting used to it and trusting ourselves (and our eyes) but so far the results have been amazing.  The crops have really never looked so clean.. which means harvest goes quicker (you don’t need to pick through the weeds so to say..), the plants are healthier because they are no longer competing with the vigorous roots of weeds and ultimately the farm is a much more productive place!    There’s still plenty of other things to do by hand but we feel really grateful for the small farm community that we have and all their helpful feedback when it comes to making big investments like these!

Finger weeded vs. not yet weeded, prepping new beds for the next succession of crops, arugula on point!

We’re also spending less time  “hand planting”… and by less I mean we’re no longer planting 8 acres by hand with the stand and plant !  (See video here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BGqUeMxlhgA/?taken-by=workinghandsfarm)  I honestly have no idea how we even physically accomplished this but we did!  Planting the whole farm by hand last year was not the plan… but when plans change you reroute and figure it out.  Way back in the fall of 2015 we decided to finance a John Deere 5075e (they have a great program for farmers at 0% interest for 5 years).  One of the perks of these tractors is that it comes with a creeper gear that would able us to use a “waterwheel tranplanter” on the back that dibbles the hole and fills it with water which means less stress for the newly transplanted crops and the farmers knees/backs.  It is “slower” than hand transplanting but less taxing on the body which means you can plant for hours without feeling totally pooped so ultimately you can get twice as much done!  (here’s a video of Becca and I planting corn: https://www.instagram.com/p/BT5E0LilRFc/?taken-by=workinghandsfarm)  The new tractor arrived last spring but the creeper gear was not installed.  We patiently waited and after almost a year of waiting for John Deere to produce a creeper gear as was promised, for our 5075E they decided to not produce one. It was a pretty frustrating process but it also provided us with a great opportunity to start over.  Last winter we found a tractor that would better suit our needs through John Deere WITH a creeper and it’s been a total champ this season… especially in such a rainy and dreary spring.

Row spacing!  Besides having the creeper gear we were able to get skinnier Ag. tires on the new tractor which has allowed us to have uniform bed spacing that matches all the other equipment (finger weeder, bed shaper etc)… meaning the spacing between rows, the bed shoulders, the pathways are all the same and you can run the transplanter or cultivator down it with ease (without tinkering or adjusting too many things).  There’s less guessing and less room for error when everything is always set up at the same spacing!  It’s a small but very amazing detail that is makes farming super efficient!

First harvest of carrots, making uniform beds with Brian’s custom bed shaper and the garlic is almost ready to harvest!  

Brian’s bed shaper.  For those of you who don’t know this about Brian – he is a tinkerer at heart.  He has a mind for finding solutions and has a natural ability when it comes to building, constructing, and fabricating.  He is very mechanically inclined.  He is self taught (farming has a way of making you learn a lot about yourself) and it’s been awesome to see him learn and grow over the years.  Every year when it comes to projects to move things forward or make things a little bit easier for us he does it with more and more ease.  Less doubt and more trust!  When our tiller was acting funny last summer he decided to fix it up and turn it into a “bed shaper.”  The bed shaper provides us with a perfectly flat 48” raised bed by listing the sides 4-6” – this helps with drainage and soil moisture.  It also gives us a flat surface that allows us to plant, seed and cultivate more precisely.  It has a roller that increases capillarity in the soil so it holds onto more moisture.

Our first part-time employee!  As we’re getting our systems dialed in, this Spring we took the plunge and hired our first ever employee back in March!  Becca is a native oregonian who has spent the last two years working on CSA farm in Eugene.  She started with Rogue Corps and has now found her way to Working Hands as our very first crew member.  Community and health are really important to her.  She’s been working part-time on the farm a couple days a week and we’re excited to achieve a bit more balance with an extra set of hands.  We’ve accomplished a lot on the days that she’s here… irrigating, transplanting on the waterwheel, harvesting, hand weeding, harvest bin washing and tray filling for seedlings.  It’s amazing how much faster things can get done when there are 3 sets of hardworking hands.  Beyond that, we’ve loved having an employee here as it’s helped us to stay focused and come up with a more detailed weekly/daily plan which has led to us being really productive!  It’s nice to have someone around with new and refreshing energy and who is super excited to be farming.

Overwintered walla walla onions make for a nice treat in spring, scapes!, and our next round of brassica crops!

So, as the to-do lists grow we feel better than we have compared to any other season.  The systems, efficiencies, tools and know-how are truly helping us to work smarter and not harder.  Farming is real physical and mental work and the systems and efficiencies we have the more time there is for a better work-life balance.  Now we just have to figure out how to get away from a day or two (it’s been 4 years since Brian and I have left the farm together for more than 12 hours)  😉  But with all things in this giant farming puzzle I have no doubt that we will figure it out…

And perhaps our largest change and decision we made this season was our decision to get out of the livestock business to focus on our produce business.  There was a multitude of reasons for the decision that we made for our farm…  our limited amount of land was a big one (with the herd growing and thriving.. we would have doubled the herd this spring with all the calves set to arrive) – especially since it floods annually (in a wet winter season like this past winter the pasture was flooded from Thanksgiving until March) which means less food early on for the livestock.  From the perspective of veggie growing, we are in our 5th season on this piece of land and in order to grow organically in a sustainable way and to practice good crop rotation (to keep bug, disease pressure down etc) with our vegetable crops we needed more space to let areas of our farm “rest” or lay “fallow” while breaking new ground elsewhere.  We are also working towards achieving a better work-life balance and it’s really important to us at this point in our life to have more opportunities to spend with family and friends (it’s been farm, farm, farm the last 8 years…) and focusing our efforts on one profit center on the farm made the most sense to us especially with the interest and demand in our main season and winter CSA.  We deeply miss the animals but feel as though the timing was right to make this decision.. we found an amazing farm in Washington that purchased all of our livestock and raises animals in a way that is congruent with our beliefs and values.  So now they have a 1,000 acres or so roam and graze and we have new fields that we are able to rotate our veggies into.  We encourage our customers that have supported these small aspects of our farm to check out Cascade Farm cascadefarm.com (their current model is shipping orders via fedex).

The next round of carrots (3,000 ft) are up after flame weeding, celery in the sun and trying our hand at dry beans for the Winter CSA!

We’ve got some big pushes ahead!  This past weekend Brian & I planted out an acre of winter squash, carving pumpkins and decorative gourds.  This coming weekend we’re planting out our melons, lettuces, kale, a third succession of sweet corn, broccoli, summer squash & cukes.  We’re also beginning to seed, plant and prepare for our Fall and winter crops and are even planting our first winter crops of the season – brussel sprouts, kalettes and leeks!   So, keep your eyes open for details about our 2017/2018 Winter CSA in the coming month!

The goats!  We’ve been keeping those goat-ers busy mowing our lawn and chomping back some invasive himalayan blackberry.  They’ll be making their way up to the front of the property soon enough!

Enjoy the bounty!


With kind regards,

your farmers

Jess & Brian

dirty hands, clean hearts