It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be inundated with fresh, local produce. The late summer / early fall harvest just seems to keep on going and going with this continued warm weather. It’s October and it’s 90° outside...I thought central Illinois already had its week-long second summer?!?! As farmers and gardeners continue to harvest and begin to pull plants for winter planting, it seems that I’m being buried in eggplant, peppers, squash, green tomatoes, and bunching greens (kale, chard, and collards). Last year I was too busy to process all of the produce I bought or was given, and a good amount ended up going to compost (enter ashamed emoji here) but this year is going to be different!
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Last week I flew out east to attend the first ever National Direct Agricultural Market Summit, organized by the USDA, Farmers Market Coalition, Farm Credit Council, Food Distribution Research Society and National Value Added Conference. Held in Arlington, VA, the Summit was designed to pull together farmers market managers, leaders of statewide farmers market organizations, representatives from several divisions of the USDA, researchers, entrepreneurs, market related service providers, and other business and community representatives involved in local food. We were selected to display at the poster session and put together a poster highlighting the ways we have combined project support from various USDA grants to bolster market sales for local farmers and improve access to local food in our community.
This is Part 3 of a multi-part series on On-Farm Variety Trials. Part 2: "Planning It Out" can be found here.
Last month, I explored planning your on-farm variety trial. I began with identifying goals. The goals you outlined will guide the next several decisions in executing your variety trial, the design of your experiment.
In order to determine if certain varieties perform better than others with respect to your goals, the trial must account for or “control” for differences in the field, soil, or management conditions. Anyone who has been farming or gardening for at least a season has likely seen how different spots in the field affect plant growth. That wet spot, or shady row will affect performance of your varieties. This is called the “field effect,” or the influence that variable field conditions have on the performance of plants in the field. More examples of field effects include slope, drainage, soil type, pH, wind direction, cold pockets, and irrigation placement. In this blog entry, we will explore how to design the trial so that it emphasizes differences in varieties rather than differences in growing conditions.
Once upon a first farmers market season, I happened upon a funny looking potato that reminded me of the Pigs! In! Space! pigs on The Muppet Show. We put on some googly eyes (because as a farmers market, we're always stocked with the essentials), and lo, Pigtato was born. Admittedly, I received many a doubtful look from my colleagues, but at community events and at the market, Pigtato was a big hit with kids and adults alike. There was usually a double take, and then they loved him. I took that potato around with me for over a month, until he started to shrivel beyond repair. And that inspired one of my favorite Champaign Farmers Market traditions: the annual Ugly Produce Beauty Pageant.
Exactly four and a half weeks ago I moved from Champaign to Stillwater, Oklahoma. It’s been a busy time, unpacking, getting my son registered and ready for school, trying to find grocery stores, hardware stores, my doctor’s office, and the DMV. Now that most of the boxes have been cleared away and I have a tiny bit of time to myself, I decided I should explore the finer points of my new hometown; for me, that means first and foremost finding local food at the farmers’ market.
It is the time of year when tomatoes are starting to come in hard and fast. Your own garden has become a squirrels candy store as you just can’t seem to get them off of the vine fast enough. Your friends and neighbors have resorted to leaving bunches of tomatoes on your patio table, front porch, and even back stairs (if I knew who put the tomatoes that I stepped on in front of the door I would go throw them at their house, seriously?!). Now, as your drowning in tomatoes and sitting at your kitchen table shaking your head and thinking to yourself “what the hell am I going to do with all of these?” don’t worry, there is hope!
If you’re like me you LOVE tomatoes, especially sun-ripened tomatoes, bursting with a flavor that the greenhouse tomatoes just can’t match no matter how great the variety is. I will eat plate after plate of tomatoes with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper all summer long, and even I will start to get tomato fatigue come early September. But then I remember that I just have to get creative in how I use them.
I have been a resident of Illinois for seventeen years. In that time I have driven from the top of the state to the bottom and everywhere in between. And in all of those miles, I somehow believed that Illinois was simply known for their soybeans and corn. These are technically the largest crops produced in the state of Illinois, but since starting at The Land Connection a few months ago I have realized that we are doing a lot more than just growing acres upon acres of corn and soybeans. And because I truly believe I cannot be the only person who didn’t know the neat things Illinois is growing, I am devoting this edition of Grow With Me to exploring a handful of important Illinois specialty crops… and also embarrassing myself a little in the process I’m sure!
This is Part 2 of a five-part series on On-Farm Variety Trials. Part 1: “What’s the fuss all about?” can be found here.
In my last blog, I introduced the concept of on-farm variety trials and explored the many benefits of conducting one on your farm. Today, I will explore the planning and preparation stage of the process. As with any project, thorough planning from the start will set up your variety trial for a smooth and enjoyable execution.
The goals you set for the trial guide every decision and process you undertake such as where and when to plant, how you manage the crop, the size of the trial plot, when to evaluate to crop, what data to collect, and how the data is interpreted.
What do you want to learn from this trial? Why are you doing it? What problem are you trying to solve?
Common trial goals are to find a variety that:
August is upon us. We're on the cusp of peak farmers market season. The trifecta is here (peaches, sweet corn, and tomatoes). We see whole rainbows of peppers and cherry tomatoes around the market. I've spotted at least 4 different types of eggplants, and this coming Tuesday a pickup full of watermelons is rolling in... It's time to celebrate farmers markets in all their glory as we head into National Farmers Market Week (August 5-11, 2018).
Instead of me going on and on about what I love at my own baby, the Champaign Farmers Market (so many things, but number #1 is definitely the people...and the dogs...and of course the food), I've asked our farmers, sponsors, volunteers, market regulars, and other community supporters what they like best about our little market.
Here's what they had to say...