Saturday, September 14, 2013

Re-inventing the Farm

For small scale organic farmers the challenge is how to make the farm pay for itself and if you are really skillful, make a profit.  At Old School Farm our challenge has been the limitations of our property and it's location - it is both a blessing and a curse.  Being that we are in a flood plain, we have deemed it unwise to attempt to grow large amounts of any one crop in the river bottom section of the property.  It became even more evident this past June when we had over five inches of rain in one night and lost five of our eight sheep along with other important infrastructure on the farm (Freya one of the survivors enjoying some broccoli is pictured above).  Had the water not receded when it did, we would have lost most of our crops as well.

This said, some of the best soil in our region is located in our river bottom.  It produces some of the most nutrient-dense/flavor intense vegetables you have ever had, and we want to continue to take advantage of this.  The challenge is we just can't risk growing more than an acre or so of vegetables, as we could lose everything at any given time.  So how do we make the farm profitable you ask?  We have been asking ourselves the same question for the past few years.

We know the basic strategy should center around diversifying and making more use of the entire property - something we have definitely been doing.  The challenge is that small amounts of maple syrup, eggs, honey, or fruit get mainly used by the family and work staff, leaving little for sale.  All great
Future pizza sauce
for our own needs but we have still been searching for a way to have the farm stand on it's own without continual cash infusions.

This past summer we hosted four workshops for a local summer camp - Pine Forrest.  The events went incredibly well.  We utilized our earthen oven to make farm pizzas, showed the kids all the diversity on the farm, enjoyed wagon rides, swimming in the creek, and many other activities.  The learning and experiential aspects for the campers were significant and the camp's owner wants to continue the program next year.

So this got us thinking about what makes Old School Farm unique and special and how we could leverage that into a sustainable business model.  We realize our uniqueness is the property itself and the wide variety of activities and amenities we have to offer here. Based on this, and considering current trends regarding healthy food and wellness, the answer we have landed upon is a Farm Camp.

Our vision for next summer is to host as many as three - two week sessions during the summer months for a dozen 12 - 14 year old campers.  The focus will be on learning and experiencing hands on what it takes to grow your own food and develop a physical work ethic.   Emphasis will also be placed upon the importance of better understanding and being more closely connected to nature.  Sourcing wild foods and practicing some Native American customs including spending time in a sweat lodge before plunging into the nearby falls will also be part of the model.  We also plan on having local chefs, nutritionists, and other farming gurus visit and work with the kids.  Campers will stay in high end TeePees with sleeping cots and meals will be prepared and enjoyed in our new post and beam barn.

There is one other aspect that we plan on wrapping into this concept, and that is to share the experience with less fortunate inner city youth that otherwise would never get to see a place like Old School Farm.  The idea is to have 8 paying campers and 4 non-paying campers.  These children of lesser means will need to go through a vigorous application and interview process to ensure that only the most in need and most desiring youth are provided the opportunity.  It is our belief that bringing together these children from different walks of life will produce positive experiences for everyone.

Future locaton for TeePees
We also plan on having a lot of fun - taking biking excursions, canoe trips in the Delaware River, and other interesting outdoor activities, including trout fishing in the Dyberry and painting lessons from a local artist who made our farm sign.  If you know a child that might be a good fit for this unique program, please let us know -

Before we sign off, we had to just drop in one short video clip that the Benner boys can't seem to get enough of.  This was shot along the coast of Maine at David's Folly Farm in Brooksville this past July.   We'll be getting two Alpine dairy goats next spring as part of the camp experience.  As you will see they sure are cute...

Finally, a short note of thanks is in order for someone who nurtured Al Benner's passion for nature and growing things which has ultimately culminated in a farm with much diversity.  Last weekend retired Professor David Benner was honored at a dinner at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, PA where he taught for 22 years.  Over one hundred of his students were on hand along with the current and past Presidents to honor a great man and amazing teacher.  Here he is seen in his Beaver top hat with his son Al.

Until next time, enjoy the photos from around the farm.  Now it's time to get back to weeding the moss gardens for our moss workshop in two weeks ( and to processing more vegetables - the tomatoes are finally ripe and the bean plants just won't quit :)

Be well

Your Friends at Old School Farm

Looking down from 2nd floor to moss patio

Coleman and Owen were very involved with blanching (and eating) roma beans

String trellises to brace in high tunnel work well for tomatoes

View inside high tunnel in mid-september 

Just a few of our tomatoes

The upper orchard - all trees looking very healthy

Sun loving mosses growing very nicely on a felt mat

Marigolds were planted along one side of the high tunnel
to help deter pests from entering when sides are rolled up

This area was previously a tangled mess of brush - beautiful now -
many thanks to our interns

A cornucopia of color...Note purple cherry tomatoes - amazing flavor.
Also Green zebra tomatoes are really great

Road to upper pasture has held up well and been cleared along considerably

Tree stand being built for bow hunting

Okra is going bonkers in high tunnel

Our quiet honda generator not only gives us peace of mind for our frozen food
should the power go down, it also allows us to do many projects around the farm

Future chicken feed

Our sweet red peppers are prolific and have amazing flavor

We are getting some very large cabbages - we have been making
 stuffed cabbage and will soon make sauerkrat

These babies are growing fast as the vine sprouted in our compost pile!

Doll's Eye - A native woodland plant

Heart shaped green zebra - please tilt your head to the left :)

Unique feature -  The moss covered "green" roof of our springhouse


Sun Chokes, Butternut squash, and potatoes -
all growing in the compost pile