As a government employee, I was given holiday leave for the friday of 4th of July weekend, which is pretty great. But, you know what they say about idle hands -- and I was certainly getting the itch to do some real work after a week of computer-laden data processing. One of my co-workers has since left the USGS and taken up full-time organic farming with her husband, and I was invited to come stay the weekend with them as I have before, an offer I can't refuse.
Chert Hollow Farm is owned by Eric and Joanna Reuter, about a 25-minute drive outside of downtown Columbia. They are their own only two employees; farming, homesteading, and practicing land stewardship on their property. A local paper, the Missourian, did an informative profile of their farm, called Living Off the Land.
I arrived at the farm on Thursday evening, just as Eric and Joanna were finishing up their work for the day in the front garden. In the summer, it's light until well into the evening, allowing a long work day and often a late dinner. During a walk to reacquaint me with the place, we discovered that the Yukon Gold potatoes were nearly bursting out and ready to be eaten, and decided to harvest some amaranth greens for a taste testing. Using only seasonal produce sourced right from the garden, we prepared a tasty vegan meal and weren't long to bed.
Morning at Chert Hollow begins at around 6:30am, with breakfast and rounds to take care of the animals. They keep small flocks of heritidge breed geese, chickens, ducks, and goats. One of their goats recently had two kids, whose ranbunctiousness was not deterred even in the early hours.
Garlic the goat being milked. While they don't have the numbers of animals or facilities neccesary to sell any of their animals products, it is enough to contribute to their other livestock's diet (the milk from this morning was fed to the new chicks) and help keep the farm a more closed resource cycle. The goats are kept in a rotating pasture that helps keep weeds and invasive species to a minimum, while providing dairy (and occasionally meat, with male kids). They sometimes work in conjunction with Goatsbeard Farm, breeding, buying, and learning about goat care from them.
Chickens, geese, and ducks all devour scraps and compost from the kitchen and garden, in turn providing eggs. All of the animals can contribute to manure for eventual garden fertilizing use. Now, you're probably wondering where I'm going to go all vegan crazy and talk about how terrible animals are. Well, you're out of luck. Chert Hollow manages their animals in a way that I wish more farms would -- as a supplementary part of their homesteading cycle, in small well cared for numbers. Does this mean I will eat their goat yogurt? No, but that's a personal decision/preference, and a topic for another (probably lengthy) post in the near future.
By this time, the sun had come up and it was time to get to work in the garden. Since it was friday, that meant it was harvest day. Chert Hollow sells most of their produce at the The Columbia Farmer's Market on saturday mornings, along with occasional purchases by local restaurants and groceries such as Sycamore, Main Squeeze Cafe, and The Root Cellar, who are interested in serving local, seasonal, or organic food.
This morning we worked harvesting sweet onions and kohlrabi for market, garlic for drying, and scallions for Sycamore. Using planks from cedars they cleared from their future orchard, the Reuters have begun constructing a work shed right beside the front garden to serve a variety of functions including storage, cleaning, and work space. With half of the roof up, some of the garlic can be hung to dry there, and sometimes tickle the heads of those working at the sinks cleaning other produce (I spent a good portion of the morning swatting at imaginary bugs on my head).
In Missouri, the afternoons can get pretty sweltering. In order to survive the heat, Eric and Joanna often taken a portion of the afternoon off to rest, do indoor work that their business requires (taxes, USDA paperwork, etc), eat lunch, and catch up on relevant news and literature about farming. I took a fabulous nap, and we headed back to work the field when it had started to cloud over.
We harvested and thinned two different varieties of amaranth greens for sale at market, and sewed buckwheat in empty beds. Instead of using hay for mulch, on this day we raked up the grass clippings that were laying around from mowing around the field and lightly covered the buckwheat beds.
The weather report predicted evening rain, so we decided to stop work at around 6 to take an exploration hike through the un-farmed portion of the Chert Hollow property. The place is aptly named for the bountiful chert lenses and layers -- both Joanna and Eric have Master's degrees in geology (Joanna went to undergrad at the same school as me, and Eric and I have incidentally shared a professor), and so they enjoy documenting the history and earth processes of their land.
I, of course, enjoy getting to geek out along with them on beautiful hikes along the ridges and cutbacks. We encountered some crazy geomorphology, mississippian carbonate fossils, old cisterns (from the farm that existed in the 20's), tiny fish, and some wild gooseberries that made for a perfect mid-hike snack.
After our hike we were all thoroughly tired and hungry, so we called it an evening and collected some veggies and herbs to make dinner. Using swiss chard, zucchini, snow peas, garlic, onions, fennel, dill, and kohlrabi greens, we put together some pretty tasty vegan pizzas that I regret not photographing (I'm pretty terrible at remembering to take pictures, if you haven't noticed by now).
It rained that evening and into saturday morning. Eric took the harvest to market while Joanna and I got to catch some extra z's. Because of the weather, we weren't able to do much work, just inventory the garden and field beds and photodocument changes. Also, we squished a lot of squash bug eggs (fingers = nature's pesticide) and ate one blueberry each from their new bushes this year, which sported a whopping total of four (very typical of first-year berries).
I left just after lunch in order to avoid being flooded in for the rest of the night. They sent me home with some onions, zucchini and garlic which will serve me well during the coming week. It was a wonderful retreat from cluttered Columbia city life and a great opportunity to learn more about farming, Eric and Joanna are always great about answering my numerous questions and explaining the philosophies and mechanics behind everything that they do at Chert Hollow.
Overall, it was an experience which I plan on repeating a few more times this summer, and reccomend to anyone with an interested in farming/gardening and a friend or contact who could help you out.
Fresh, Local Links:
Chert Hollow Farm (Website) (Blog)
The Missourian: Living Off the Land
Columbia Farmer's Market
The Root Cellar
Main Squeeze Cafe (Website) (Blog)