New York, NY (Huffington Post, February 17, 2015): I am thinking about spring. Although it is still several weeks away, there are decisions to make that will affect what grows on Katchkie Farm in 2015. Despite the frozen earth, now is the time our planning begins. The seed orders went in last week, including over 60 varieties from arugula and eggplant to king kale, tomatoes and zucchini - over 1 million individual seeds.
But the most critical farm activity starting now is the launch of CSA sign-up season. CSA - Community Supported Agriculture - is better recognized as the veggie bag members get weekly, filled with whatever was harvested on the farm. We are in the process of signing up our 500 members - not a simple task, yet central to the financial health of the farm.
For us at Katchkie Farm, and at hundreds of farms across the country, CSA is the economic anchor. Why? Members pay for their "shares" before the growing season - providing farmers with money to buy seeds, ready fields and equipment- all before a single veggie has grown. CSA defines a commitment that will weather a bumper crop season (when members benefit) or withstand the occasional disruption due to hurricane, hail, blight or bug (less to share). It fosters a connection between consumer and grower that transcends marketing or e-commerce.
The advent of two trends threaten to disrupt the CSA model. The first is the aggregator/middleman model, which collects crops from different farms and resells directly to consumers. Retail aggregators include models like Good Eggs or Farmigo, allowing buyers to skip the vegetables they don't like (no okra please) and get the ones they prefer (more kale or varietal tomato). In season, FreshDirect not only offers a wide selection of local options (conventional and organic) but a farmer's box of "best picks" of the week for a CSA-like experience. No doubt, Amazon will be right behind. Depending on your location, Peapod, Whole Foods and others with online shopping will worm their way into the farm fresh market.
In the bricks and mortar world, merchants are responding to the demand for local food and promote an array of items, from fruits and vegetables to cheese, meat, fish and beverages as well. Here too, there is abundant marketing about local farm connections - often a source of controversy as there is little transparency and no regulation.
Boyertown, PA (Berks-Mont Business, February 19, 2015): Agriculture is booming in Earl and East Earl Township and the New Holland area according to Representative Dave Zimmerman.
"Many of these small farms (average around 50 acres) have moved from raising steers and pigs to small dairies and from tobacco as a cash crop to produce as the cash crop over the past 15 to 20 years," said Zimmerman. "The number of greenhouses has simply exploded, growing everything from tomatoes to flowers and everything in between."
Zimmerman said the area is "loaded with small on-farm support businesses like farm equipment repair shops and roadside produce stands. The agriculture support industry in the area is huge."
That support industry, he said, includes feed mills, livestock auction centers, machinery sales and service, farm supply stores and farm supply delivery route trucks, milk haulers, veterinarians, feed consultants, DHIA milk testing, livestock artificial insemination, custom harvesting and manure hauling, seed and fertilizer sales, farm building sales and construction companies, lime hauling, butcher shops and produce auction centers, farm tire repair and sales, energy sales and delivery such as diesel fuel and gas for tractors and propane to heat Greenhouses etc, etc.
"Agriculture ... industry employees numerous people with varied skills," said Zimmerman.
State College, PA (Penn State Extension, February 18, 2015): Typically, I like to highlight a plant that has some ornamental characteristic relative to the month that the article is posted. So for example, in the past, I have written about winter hollies in February or Kerria japonica in January . To get myself out of the winter blues, I have delved into my photo archives to find something that reminds me of warm and sunny days and came up with falsespirea, Sorbaria sorbifolia.
Not one of your 'bread and butter' plants of the landscape but something that is different and can fit into larger areas. Its suckering ability makes it suitable for sites where plant cover is needed, such as banks, screens, or large areas. This shrub can grow 6-8 feet in height with an equal spread.
Leaves are pinnately compound and consist of 13-25 leaflets. Newly unfolding spring leaves show a pinkish-red cast for a few weeks before turning green. It is very attractive!
Its second notable ornamental characteristic is its summer flowers. In June and July, panicles of white flowers (up to 10 inches long) emerge all over the plant, above the dark green leaves. Falsespirea performs best in full sun but will tolerate some partial shade.
Kansas City, MO (The Kansas Star, February 12, 2015): Every summer for 18 years, Alan Branhagen has driven north from Kansas City up Interstate 35 into his native Iowa, keeping his eyes peeled for the color orange.
Maybe if he were looking for traffic barrels he would have found greater joy.
Instead, the director of horticulture at Powell Gardens has found himself in the disheartening habit of trying to spot the fluttering orange wings of monarch butterflies, whose yearly migration between Mexico and Canada has captivated both scientists and nature lovers for generations.
A few years ago, Branhagen said, he often counted a half-dozen or more butterflies every mile on their journey north.
"Over the last two years, instead of seeing seven or eight per mile," he said this week, "it is per 100 miles."
That the loss of habitat from agriculture, herbicides and development has caused the monarch population to be decimated over the last two decades — going from an all-time high of 1 billion in 1996 to about 55 million last year — has become a familiar story.
Madison, WI (Morning Ag Clips, February 12, 2015): Pennsylvania's Agricultural Land Preservation Board today safeguarded 1,495 additional acres on 18 farms in 10 counties through the state's nation-leading farmland preservation program.
Since the program began in 1988, federal, state, county and local governments have invested nearly $1.3 billion to preserve 504,252 acres on 4,750 farms in 57 counties for future agricultural production.
"It's an honor to again chair the meetings of the board of our nation-leading farmland preservation program," said acting Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. "The program's success comes through the work of staff at all levels of government, support from a public who values farmland, and from the farmers themselves who offer their land for preservation. I look forward to the program's future success."
The board approved a $30 million state funding threshold for 2015 easement purchases. Counties across Pennsylvania have certified $14.7 million for farmland preservation in 2015.
The board preserved farms in ten counties: Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Susquehanna, Union and York.
Madison, WI (MorningAg Clips, February 11, 2015): Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that rural agricultural producers and small business owners can now apply for resources to purchase and install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements. These efforts help farmers, ranchers and other small business owners save money on their energy bills, reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, support America's clean energy economy, and cut carbon pollution. The resources announced today are made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill.
"Developing renewable energy presents an enormous economic opportunity for rural America," Vilsack said. "The funding we are making available will help farmers, ranchers, business owners, tribal organizations and other entities incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology into their operations. Doing so can help a business reduce energy use and costs while improving its bottom line. While saving producers money and creating jobs, these investments reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon pollution as well."
USDA is making more than $280 million available to eligible applicants through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Application deadlines vary by project type and the type of assistance requested. Details on how to apply are on page 78029 of the December 29, 2014 Federal Register or are available by contacting state Rural Development offices.
USDA is offering grants for up to 25 percent of total project costs and loan guarantees for up to 75 percent of total project costs for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements. The REAP application window has been expanded. USDA will now accept and review loan and grant applications year-round.