This year’s season began at 11 Wednesday morning when Debbie Jauch drove her black and silver Kenworth dump truck through the farm gate (sending the watching chickens into a dither of feathers and squawks), spun the 105,000 pound behemouth into the lower pasture, and, in a nifty bit of dump-truck artistry, laid a huge pile of compost on the precise spot Rebecca and Louisa had selected.
Ms. Jauch’s arrival was a kind of seasonal sign–like the first robin. You need compost to get a farm going and while we have plenty of the stuff sitting in steaming piles on the lower pasture, Rebecca and Louisa are still uneasy about its provenance. We know for a fact that some of those piles contain aminopyralid and clopyralid–two very potent herbicides made by Dow AgroSciences that, while they are harmless to humans, could cause much damage to some of the plants we raise if they were spread out on the fields.
We know this because, after a long hiatus since a state Ag. Dept. inspector tested those piles last summer, we were finally sent a report showing what was in the piles. Bad news there–trace elements of both herbicides, which made their way from some eastern Washington hay and wheat growers, through a horse farm that supplies our compost manure, and into our piles. Dow has since said it plans to tighten controls over their products to cut off that process. We’ll see how that works out, but meanwhile we’re pondering what to do with our existing piles.
Thus, the arrival of Ms. Jauch and her dump truck. Rebecca spent the winter scouting around for compost we could be certain was herbicide-free. Turns out that is almost impossible since most compost sellers either don’t know their product can still be tainted (Washington banned the spraying of clopyralid on lawns a decade ago to keep the contaminated clippings out of compost, but failed to do anything about hay) or they don’t test and therefore don’t know what’s in there. We’ve heard from loads of other Washington farmers and gardeners who have had compost contamination problems similar to ours.
Ms. Jauch’s compost came from Cedar Grove, a composting company that says it doesn’t allow manure in its product. It’s amazing what goes into compost–we’ve had sellers tell us they’ve found everything from particle board to ground-up plastic in their material. In any event, Ms. Jauch’s compost was black, with a rich, earthy aroma. We hope nothing else was in there.
Ms. Jauch and her dump truck were barely out the gate before things began humming–new beds being measured out, beds turned over, seeds being sown. Two of our new interns–Tess Faller and Hiram Peri–got their foul weather gear muddied up for the first time. The other two, Adam Favaloro and Katt Tolman won’t arrive until the end of the month. We’ll have a more complete introduction then.
In their stead, Joel Sokoloff, one of last year’s interns, will be filling in for a couple of weeks until he moves out to Chimacum, on the Olympic Peninsula, to his next farming gig at Red Dog Farm. We got them all to pose for a quick snapshot.
Meanwhile, Louisa was firing up her tractor to begin prepping part of our lower field for a new raspberry patch. Last year, that field was the domain of our sheep, but things never seem to stand still for long around here. We decided to forego sheep this year and raspberries seemed like a pretty good alternative use of the pasture. They grow well in our cool summer weather and there is an almost inexhaustible demand for fresh berries and for jam.
Plus, there’s not much that beats picking your breakfast off bushes right outside your door. Still, it was kind of sad watching that lovely green pasture disappear under Louisa’s box scraper. It didn’t take long to go from this.
So it goes: A little lime to improve the soil, a bit of rain, some rototilling and planting and, voila, a new raspberry patch. Agricultural statisticians tell us we’re losing about an acre of U.S. farmland every minute to developers. In our own small way we’re working to reverse that trend.