Steve’s Weekly Update for 6/23/10

Dear members,

Climatology 2010: No word yet from White Mountain on crop loss from last week’s winds, but I did hear that significant damage was done to Sage Creation’s cherry crop out in Palisade, Colorado.  La Montanita will be picking up cherries late this week and we will see what was left. They will be tasty!  We may have a chance to get some visually blemished (but otherwise unharmed) fruit that will not sell in retail, but will be a value for members and “better than nothing” for Farmer Paolo Lugara.  We’ll see how that plays out.

We are settling in to summer.  Hot days and cold nights.  We should now be past the frost risk until mid September.

The irrigation pattern is working.  Adam and Amelia, newly arrived to carry the torch for the season in the garden, understand the system and are managing it well.  Final plans are formed to fill the remaining portion of the garden that we are able to care for at Mesa Top:  carrots and rotation of lettuce mix.

Volunteer weeders are now and for the rest of the season a “regular” need at Mesa Top. Please consider spending a morning up there with us, rescuing our food plants from the voracious surrounding growth of the better adapted natives that surround them as soon as we put water onto our enlivened biodynamic soil.  Click here for the June and July dates.  Please RSVP to blog@beneficialfarm.com

Steve’s Soapbox

Follow on to last week:  The largest department of the US Federal Government is the Department of Defense.  Agriculture is #2.  I am in Washington the middle of this week, joining a group of farmers on behalf of the NSAC (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, http://www.sustainableagriculturecoalition.org/ asking USDA to request specific amounts of funding in the 2011 budget for some of the key programs that are most helpful to small and mid-scale farmers and their rural communities.

Most of the programs are “authorized” during the Farm Bill process, which is written every 5 years, though if it takes long enough to get it approved and passed through the legislature, there can sometimes be a 6 year gap between bills.  The current Farm Bill was passed in 2008 and the next one will be brought forward in 2012 and likely not passed until 2013.  Some programs authorized in the Farm Bill do not have $$$ attached, and then we have to lobby to get finds moved from some other program to the hungry one.  Often new programs are authorized and not funded, to test how munch actual support there is for them.  If there is enough pressure to prioritize them, some funds are found.  That is the focus of this week’s process.

USDA Rural Development department oversees several of these programs and is an important department within the Department.  Several new programs live there, as well as some established programs that received additional funding.  Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Merrigan have publicly and frequently promised to make revitalization of our rural economy a focus of the Obama USDA.  They seem to understand that the demand for local and regionally produced foods from small and mid scale farmers is a driver for new jobs and economic opportunity in rural communities.  About the only Agriculture investment included in the Stimulus package was a significant boost in funds for several key Rural Development programs.  Community Facility Grant and Loan Program, which generally is directed to building fire stations, schools, and those sorts of thing, are being opened up for food system projects.

A few weeks ago I received a call from USDA “Know Your Farmer” staff asking me to see who in NM might fit the criteria and be able to apply.  The stimulus related funds have to be allocated by end of September or they return to the “mother ship.”  I am talking to several grass roots local food projects, trying to help establish or increase the footprint of “food hubs” in some communities such as Espanola, Aztec, and Tucumcari.  Another interesting opportunity is in Carrizozo where a small livestock processing plant was built in the early 1980s, which needs to be modernized so that USDA will approve the plant for current operations.  The CF (Community Facility) program requires a public or non-profit partner to own the facility, which can then be leased to a private or cooperative operator.

Now, for the first time in my lifetime I think, local authorities and even the State of NM Economic Development Department are realizing that food stores and food access points are important economic development drivers.  This makes partnerships between government and non-government agencies with local cooperatives a possibility.

Meanwhile the “lending” side of several USDA Rural Development programs is hamstrung by the fact that lenders are on the sidelines, making money with our deposits by NOT lending.  USDA has significant resources to back up loans to operators with a 95% guarantee, but the banks are not lending.  USDA also has several relending programs, where it “funds” intermediaries to make loans to operators and to provide TA (Technical Assistance) to operators.  I am also working to help new players enter the arena as USDA approved re-lenders.  Without these groups, we will lose out on a full range of opportunities to deploy public resources toward the goal of strengthening our food system.

This week’s Cow stories:  update on Mesa Top cows, Jim Miller Ayrshire projects and more:

Young calves are getting weaned, mother cows are getting milked, and cheese is being made.  The hay for the next year for the cows at High Desert has been contracted from our friends Keith and Sherry Franzoy (Desert Gardens) at Salem, about 30 minutes away from the herd’s home at Las Palomas.  It is a good match, to have the cows down there, as Keith has been growing hay for dairies for a long time.  He is very good at it and his prices are fair:  he is giving us small quantities for a price that is generally reserved for much larger customers.  There again is the value of networking.

He is also making some small bales of AWESOME alfalfa that I am bringing home to Mesa Top for our chickens and also as supplemental food for our grazing cows.  If you know anyone who needs small bales of high quality feed, let me know.

This week’s cheese share update:

This week we will give 1 piece of Ayrshire cheddar and 2 pieces of Tucumcari block cheese:  Asadero and Asiago.

This week’s Veggie/Share Update:

We have one more week of the Mesa Top spring salad.  I hope folks continue to enjoy the Mesa Top Salad greens while they last.  Vida Verde says that they will have some next week also, so we will continue with salad greens.  We will try to keep the salad share down a bit so that we do not crowd out other options, such as this week’s English peas from Danny Farrar in Velarde.

This week the featured cooking green will be Mesa Top chard, which will be rotating through your shares for a while now.

Members who want extra chard or other cooking greens, or salad mix should let us know, we can deliver.

This week is will be the first week of Southern NM Squash from Desert Gardens.  The onions from Gard-n-hers were not successful.  Luz says that the quality and yield were not enough to send any our way.  I have to check and see if I can get some chemical free onions from the Franzoys.  They grow onions on a much larger scale for conventional market, and have changed over to an organic fertility program for their entire farm.  The issue is a pest called Thrip:  if they have it, they have to spray or they lose the crop.  But some years there is no pressure from Thrip, and the crop is chemical free.  I will keep you posted on that.

We have the last batch of spring cabbage from Desert Gardens also.

Thank you to the many members who responded to our Special Order opportunity for additional Shiraz apricots.  They will come in this week.  And we also expect the first figs, which if all goes well; we will see every couple of weeks, on and off through the summer.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Membership news:

Membership numbers are growing steadily.  This week we begin distribution in Albuquerque.  Please help us spread the word to our neighbors down the road.  It is important that we extend the reach of Beneficial CSA so that we can move more food through the system, reach more members with a reasonably priced, mixture of local and regional food, and contribute to the success of our farmers.

Thank you for your continued support!

Steve Warshawer

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