Skip to main content

Week 4-Monday Meetings

IMG_2529

Seeding Schedule


IMG_2365

The Monday meeting board

CSA
One more of the many things that GTF does is a CSA. They farm and sell produce all year round, but in the winter they have less to sell and an influx of cash from the CSA helps them in the spring. They have an efficient assembly line with an expandable rack with wheels that the boxes can roll down and each person puts one thing in. Then they are put on pallets according to the location where they will be picked up.

IMG_2362

CSA packaging line

My thoughts: Our jobs are varying a little bit, with transplanting and harvesting boysenberries before markets, but it is nice to have a routine and to know what is expected of us. It also helps to know that we are working towards one goal and the farm is also working towards that goal of producing quality produce.

What’s in: blackberries!

Multiple Trials-

Though the farm ultimately has to make money to keep going and support the employees and community, they are open to trying new varieties. GTF has a good relationship with seed companies and extension at OSU. GTF plants a lot of trials for OSU but also for themselves.

While I was there we planted super sweet corn varieties for OSU. Some didn’t even have names yet.

GTF also tried out 6 different root stocks for each tomato variety to see which combination did the best.

Monday Management Meetings (what needs to get done for the week)

One of my favorite things to witness was the Monday Meetings. Each person in charge of an aspect of the farm came to the meeting with a list of things that needed to get done that week. What vehicles needed to be repaired or what materials they needed to buy (like twine for stringing tomatoes.)

Joelene is in chards of seeds and plants and gives a list of what needs to be seeded or transplanted.

Rodrigo says what is going to be harvested. Joey says all the fields and crops he is going to cultivate. Josh, who does compost doesn’t add anything, he just keeps up turning the compost (still very important). The soil fertility checks are done by John Yeo and he says what kind of tests he is going to run and for what plants. Chris who works in the office brings printed sheets of the week’s forecast. Overseeing this all are John and Sally. John will provide wisdom and Sally resolves tension.

I really like the meetings because they set the priorities of what needs to be done each week and who does what.

Week 3- Markets!

Week 3

Just some numbers
markets: 8
tractors: 16
acres: 60
employees: 130 (height of the season)
farm rigs: 16
box trucks 10
greenhouses: 33

Menu

GTF (as people refer to the farm) has a lot of different ways they sell their produce. They sell to 8 different markets, have over 100 CSA members, wholesale to restaurants and local grocery stores, they have a farm stand, and they also have a restaurant. People travel from all over Oregon (and probably surrounding states too) to eat there. It is ranked 2 out of 12 restaurants in the Philomath area by trip advisor.  (https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g52017-d1526937-Reviews-Gathering_Together_Farm-Philomath_Oregon.html) And for good reason.

The restaurant makes their own pasta and bread and uses local ingredients. The menu is based around what is available on the farm. They had a special salad with strawberries when they were in. (It was delicious). The restaurant is a good way for people to come visit their stand, and a good way to use excess vegetables.

Markets

The Saturday markets I’ve worked have been the most informative. They really focus on their display and have a couple rules they go by.

  1. Displays must look bountiful. when setting up, they use rustic boxes and baskets in asymmetrical arrangements and overflow them with vegetables. During the market this means constant resupply. no customer wants to by the last piece of garlic.
  2. Keep ready customers away from displays. GTF sets up a separate section for check out. This way customers who already have what they are going to buy don’t block access for other customer still gathering produce. It also creates a nice flow and prevents congestions. Also a visible line can draw more curious customers in.
  3. Know your food. At all the markets I’ve been to have a sampling area. Someone prepares some of the vegetables on display, usually odd ones that people might know about, like chickory or tatsoi. If customers have questions about preparations, the people working there should be able to give a recipe.
  4. Head math and keep the line moving, except when you don’t want it to. John Eveland promotes employees adding up customers’ totals in their heads to be efficient. It can also keep a busy line moving. But if the line isn’t long, he suggests making as much small talk as possible to keep the customers there to give the illusion of lines, to draw more customers in.

IMG_2159

beautiful, bountiful, and overflowing

IMG_1930 IMG_2161

My Thoughts,

Time is flying by, I’ve enjoyed working with some great people and can’t believe it is already half over. Working with GTF has made me even more excited to work on my farm.  It has also made me grateful for our smaller size. GTF provides a lot of food for the community, but it is so big and hard to keep track of everything.

what’s in: peas

Week 2- The “M” Team

IMG_1962

Bird’s nest found while tomato trellising

Week 2

M-Team

I’ve been doing some work with the M-team and asked what the “M” stood for. Rachel, who is the leader in our two person team said people like to call it “mighty”, but she then admitted it means miscellaneous. We’ve had the special project of keeping all the Tomato houses up to date with trellising and snapping off suckers so the plant can focus it energy on the fruit. Regular tomatoes have one leader or one main stem, and any other stems that usually shoot from between the stem and branch, we take off. Cherry tomatoes have two leaders and we take off any other suckers. Then we wrap the twine around the stems, tight enough to hold it up and prevent bending, but not too tight the we snap it off. We work on that unit lunch and then we usually swap over to transplanting.

We use a high-speed transplanter (more on that to come-Machines), though the name might suggest something fast, the tractor crawls while the people sitting in the back are struggling to keep up with filling cups with ready to plant plants.

When we are not transplanting or trellising, we are helping irrigate. The summer months are extremely dry and irrigation is something that happens everyday in at least some field. Back home we hope for enough rains to never irrigate, but sometimes we will have to occasionally.      

IMG_1891

high speed transplanter

   

IMG_1927

Tractor modified to carry irrigation pipes

Manuals

Over the first week I got a feel for how many farm truck their are. There are at least ten different trucks, while that might seem like a lot, there still seems to be a shortage when you really need a flatbed truck to transport transplants to field 8D10. And I’ve categorized them into two groups: ones I can and can’t drive. Most fall into the latter category because they are manual.

Soo… Rachel has been giving me lessons, I have successfully shifted to second gear and back down, but thats about it. It is a skill I feel I need and hope I come back to New Hampshire a proficient driver.

IMG_1902

Meals

Working on a farm, one might expect good food and good farming to go hand in hand, on GTF it might even go one step farther. Everyday at 10:00 there is snack. Usually consisting of pastries or egg burritos, it is worth looking forward to during the weekends. Lunch is served Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1:00. It is an even bigger production and the highlight of the day. 

My Thoughts

It has been a great first two weeks. I’m still adjusting and starting to feel more confident about my work. I’m learning a lot about organization and prioritization and still have a ways to go (so those sections will be later).

what’s in: tomatoes

Week 1- Meeting the Farm

Gathering Together Farm has been a certified organic farm since 1987. They farm over 50 acres and in the height of the season they have around 120 people working in the fields, restaurant and market. The farm is owned by John Eveland and Sally Brewer but management is divided up over various groups like cultivation, harvest, planting, restaurant, and fertility.

I am interning on their farm for six weeks, I’m looking to learn about their organic practices and how they organize their priorities. There are probably at least ten different things that can be done on a farm at any given time, but how do you decide what needs to be done? How do you partition labor and organize crops, I hope to have a better idea.

Week 1

Meeting the Farm

I’m always a little nervous to start new things. Everyone was telling me that my bosses John and Sally are the nicest people ever so naturally I was skeptical. They certainly seemed nice when I talked to them over the phone, but I didn’t know what to expect, I had from 2:30 am driving to the airport to landing across the country and another hour drive to Gather Together Farm to speculate. 

But of course Sally said that I and my mom’s friend(who lives in the area and who drove me) could have lunch in their restaurant and when we stepped into the place, the waitress was excited to meet me and I met the person I was staying with, who instantly gave me the key and invited me to eat dinner with them. John and Sally showed up, they were trying to figure out what to do with an extra 18 flats of strawberries that an order didn’t want anymore. But they introduced themselves, gave me hugs, and we sat down to the most delicious lunch. 

After lunch my mom’s friend and I hopped into one of their farm cars and got a tour of the various fields.

IMG_1877

The Mercedes Tour

IMG_1878

Rows of Lettuce

   

Maps

Over the years John and Sally have incorporated surrounding fields into their production, its a lot to keep track of, so every field has a name. This helps organize where lettuce is going to be transplanted or what fields needs to be cultivated.

IMG_2526

All the fields with their labels

My Thoughts

Its a lot to take in, the farm is twice the size of mine back home, with over a hundred employees, (compared to our 20). There are so many more because they have a restaurant and they hire people just to do markets. The markets over fifty miles away and the truck hauling the produce can carry two people at most and the Portland market needs 8!. I’m looking forward to seeing how it is all managed.

what’s in: Strawberries!

Sorghum Breeding

Performing a pollination.

Performing a pollination.

One last project that I have taken part in these final two weeks of my internship is another experiment that is taking place in cooperation with the sorghum breeding program at A&M. This project is mostly being led by Blake and Dr. Rooney who is the sorghum breeder here at A&M. The project consists of using ESM which stands for Ethyl methanesulfonate which is a mutagen that allows for genetic mutations to occur at faster rates. The object of this project is to eventually create a line of herbicide resistant sorghum that can later be sent to market. The two herbicides which we are selecting for resistance are Laudis and Prowl. There are two plots, each with 1000 different genetic lines of sorghum and a crossing block where the males and females will be crossed to their respective counterparts. The offspring of this generation will then be grown out and seed will be collected from them to send to a winter nursery in Puerto Rico where further research is going to be performed in coordination with A&M.

Sorghum Pollination Block

Sorghum Pollination Block

The purpose of having an herbicide resistant sorghum is to be able to have a crop that will not be damaged when the herbicide is sprayed on it. By creating a resistant line, farmers will be able to spray the two herbicides to control for weeds and will not have to worry about hurting their sorghum crop.

When working on this experiment, I learned how to look for male sterile sorghum plants and I was introduced to the principles of scouting for signs of resistance. These resistant/tolerant characteristics include yellowing of the plants or changes in morphology such as twisting and or curling of the leaves. One of the most important things that I acknowledged when working with genetics is the importance of organization. It can be very easy to get mixed up or confused, but organization prevents errors. Additionally, it is important to double and triple check your work, because a single mistake can damage years and years of work and data. This field is particularly tedious and demands much discipline, but it is also one of the areas that is central to the evolution of agricultural technology. Year after year at field days and conferences, farmers are constantly asking about new lines of crops being developed, and this is because it is so important to keep evolving in sight of environmental change and pest pressures.

After working for the weed science lab at A&M after these ten summer weeks, I have realized that there are so many sectors in agriculture that need research. The ultimate goal being to facilitate the lives of farmers who are feeding our country and the world. Through the cooperation of farmers and scientists, we can farm our lands in an environmentally sound manner, so that generations after ours can follow in our steps and farm the lands that we once farmed.

Summer: Seed Predation Of Carabids Opens

In March I was delighted to be hired by Matt Ryan’s Sustainable Cropping Systems Laboratory as a research assistant full time for the summer. Work is made to be so much easier when you’re not only surrounded by very smart and honest people but also have the opportunity to be challenged to understand the complexity of your discipline in greater depth. This happens to be just the experience I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying this summer.

As the summer has progressed I’ve been working more and more with one member of the SCS Lab in particular, the great Connor Youngerman. Connor has three experiments ongoing at the moment. In June my two fellow RAs and I helped begin one of them, S.P.O.C. SPOC is an experiment that was designed earlier this year to test the seed preference of two of the most common local predators in this region of New York State, Harpalus pensylvanicus and Gryllus pensylvanicus.

Seed predation is an interesting subject from the perspective of the SCS lab. Researchers often consider these bugs beneficial because they eat weed seeds that would otherwise compete with agronomic crops for sunlight and water. What those researchers can sometimes overlook, however, is the fact that many of those species that they consider weeds can also be used as cover crops. Cover crops are seeded purposefully and are meant to provide a variety of different ecosystem services for a variety of different reasons. The appeal of cover crops is that their use can provide a way to stimulate ecological health while reducing input (in terms of cost) and maintaining yield consistently over time. By understanding the preference of these insect predators on different plant species within this cover-crop context, one can understand how to direct the use of such covers more efficiently.

img_2576

For the past couple of months we have been testing 13 different species of weeds and/or cover crops, depending on whom you ask. They include: cereal rye, winter barley, velvet leaf, ragweed, radish, white mustard, crimson clover, red clover, triticale, pearl millet, giant foxtail, hairy vetch, and annual ryegrass.

img_2560 img_2574

You can see in these few snapshots some of the protocol upkeep that’s involved with the experiment. About 80 pitfall traps have been ‘installed’ in the field surrounding the Leland Processing Center, where most of the Lab’s experiments are maintained. Every day each trap is inspected and insects of interest are collected and taken back to Leland. Up to this point neither of the species of interest has been found in any significant quantity. We’ve been testing another common seed predator in the area, Pterostichus melanarius. Connor has said that he expects us to begin find more Harpalus in the coming weeks. We usually find anywhere from 15-50 beetles a day. Once beetles are collected they need to be starved for a certain fixed amount of time to control for their desire to eat. They spend four days in the walk-in cooler, in containers like those shown above, along with a wet paper towel as a source of moisture. Once four days passes they are taken out and placed in a petri dish along with 26 seeds of one species of plant and a moist cotton ball. These trials are termed ‘no choice’ because the bug has no choice of what they can eat. For five days at 24-hour intervals after the bugs are placed in their dishes, we record how many seeds each insect has eaten.

Ohio Manure Expo

The sunset on our way down to the Manure Expo.

The sunset on our way down to the Manure Expo.

The bison!

The bison!

Cows on slats for manure management.

Cows on slats for manure management.

Last week saw a couple really exciting days. I got to go to the Manure Expo in London Ohio with a fellow intern, Sarah Hetrick. I’ve always wanted to travel for work! On the way down, we made the- what should have been 8 ½ hour trip to London Ohio- in 10 hours. Our bladders refused to cooperate. At least we caught a pretty sunset from the road!

The next morning, we left our hotel bright and early to make the 8 AM check-in at the Expo. At 8:30 we boarded yellow cheese busses for the Beef  tour! The first stop was the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park where we met a small herd of bison that were in charge of keeping the grass at the park neatly trimmed. Here there was talk about grazing management and the difference between cool season and warm season pastures. I realized that I made the big mistake of forgetting to pack a hat and sun screen. Ohio was hot, humid and very sunny. (And our bus did not have air conditioning…)

The next stop was a farm owned by a grower named Ron Hastings. This was the stop where I learned the most. Ron has a beef cattle operation with about 350 head. There were some cows kept on pasture and some kept in the barn which has open slats for the floor. The open slats were not wide enough for the cow’s hooves to get stuck but just enough so that manure could fall through when the animals moved around. Under the slats was a 12-foot-deep capture area where the manure was mixed and then pumped out; to be used as fertilizer or sold. The barn did not smell worse than a barn which clears out its manure and there were almost no flies or bugs (Ron didn’t use any fly control.) Ron explained that the natural ventilation of the structure was enough to manage pests and smell.

Ron’s crop production was also fascinating to hear about. His land has been in a no-till, four-year corn-soy-hay-wheat rotation for the past eighteen years! He also incorporates cover crops every season and keeps as much plant residue as possible.

The Expo's tradeshow held on the grounds of the Molly Caren Ag Center featured very large and scary looking equipment.

The Expo’s tradeshow held on the grounds of the Molly Caren Ag Center featured very large and some pretty scary looking equipment.

I decided that I will write a fact sheet with Quirine during the fall semester about cover crops and being able to attend the tour of Ron’s farm, hearing about the practices he uses, was helpful to me. I hope to reach out to Ron if I come across any challenges during the writing process!

All Things Common

This is the system created made out of materials that we had in the greenhouse. It allowed the process of soil washing to go much faster given the large samples.

This is the system created made out of materials that we had in the greenhouse. It allowed the process of soil washing to go much faster given the large samples.

Some of the most important things that I have learned during this internship with Texas A&M have not taken place in a lecture room or in a conference area. The most practical of knowledge comes out in the field when performing simple mundane tasks. There is a variety of knowledge that comes when having to perform tasks such as spraying herbicide in a field, collecting soil samples, or setting up an irrigation system. While working on the different projects I was able to learn how to use things like a backpack sprayer and learn how to adjust pressure as well as to read label recommendations for chemical application rates. Depending on the size of the field the back pack sprayer may be enough to complete an application job. In larger commercial fields tractor sprayers are usually used. I learned the importance of always following safety procedures and following the label recommendations, as failing to do so could lead to safety hazards.

This is one of my co-workers about to use the back pack sprayer to treat a field of experimental corn.

This is one of my co-workers about to use the back pack sprayer to treat a field of experimental corn.

Water conservation in the state of Texas is an important issue and area of concern. Water is the single most important element on our planet and is consumed widely in agricultural practices particularly in rice fields like the one that I work on with Tabby. There have been many projects that work with finding ways to reduce the amount of water that is used in Southern rice production, but yield output effects is the main concern. Other crops such as sorghum also make use of flood irrigation systems, which is how we watered Blake’s sorghum and johnsongrass field. One of the most simple ways to flood irrigate a field is through the use of poly pipe which is a plastic in the form of a long tube mimicking an irrigation pipe. This plastic is tied to the water head which will be the source of water, and can be tied with zip ties but must be tested to watch that the zip ties are strong enough to hold the plastic given a certain pressure. Although we used poly pipe in our research plots, larger operations tend to use either a linear or central pivot irrigation system. These irrigation systems require less human labor and can be programmed. Although water is becoming increasingly scarce, it is a necessary resource particularly in agriculture. Depending on the crop and the region, the water requirements will vary. In addition to this, realizing how much time it actually takes to set up an irrigation system and how much human labor it requires is also important. These tasks are not simple and require the time and effort of multiple people.

This is a Linear Irrigation System used in commercial agriculture.

This is a Linear Irrigation System used in commercial agriculture.

Finally, one of the most valuable things that I have learned so far is the importance of being able to improvise. All too often, we plan things a certain way and once we get to doing them we figure out that our original plan did not work. When collecting soil samples from Blake’s sorghum field we found ourselves changing the method of sample collection that was originally planned. We had to make use of plastic buckets and large bags in order to be able to collect representative samples from each of the plots. Once we collected the samples from all 24 plots, we then proceeded to the next step which involved washing the soil and collecting the seed material from each sample to analyze the population of Johnsongrass seed in each given plot. Due to the large size of each sample, we had to devise a way to make the process of washing the soil as time effective as possible. Blake created a system out of materials that we had in the greenhouse to make the process much faster, and it worked! It took time to think about a way to make things work faster, but in the end the process was able to save a significant amount of time (picture below to show the device created).

The plastic irrigation pipe sometimes must be modified when used in an experimental trial. Here I am making holes in the pipe to only flood certain rows containing the Johnsongrass,

The plastic irrigation pipe sometimes must be modified when used in an experimental trial. Here I am making holes in the pipe to only flood certain rows containing the Johnsongrass,

It was these simple and mundane days when I seemed to learn the most, just by watching and then trying things out for myself. I have realized that I can learn things ten times as well if I can do it using my hands, and for this reason I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with research programs like the weed science program at Texas A&M. My internship is almost over and there are only a couple of blogs left to wrap up my summer experience. During the next blog I will be sharing my experience with a genetics crossing block that was unlike anything I have ever worked on before!

Monday Morning Team Meetings

Every Monday morning the whole team meets for debriefing, scheduling and presenting work. I really love the meetings for how collaborative they are; everyone shares what they want to accomplish for the week, we update each other on how our projects are going, discuss if any field work needs extra hands, and every week someone gives a presentation about their project. The meeting usually lasts about two hours, the first of which is for debriefing and scheduling and the second, for the presentation.

The purpose of the presentations is to give everyone an understanding of the history behind a project, its purpose, and methods. Quirine’s team consists of about twelve people (post docs, grad students, interns, extension associate, lab manager, and research specialists) and so far we have had nine project presentations. The discussions and questions are very interesting and often provide helpful feedback for the project. I learn a lot just from seeing how and where research, industry, extension and production intersect.

Today, a post doc presented about the whole farm nutrient management planning project and the New York phosphorus runoff index project- both of which were born within Quirine’s Nutrient Management SPEAR program may years ago. Whole farm nutrient management planning corresponds inputs (animals, crops produced, feed purchased, etc.) and outputs (products sold such as milk, animals, and crops) to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels. The difference between the inputs and outputs may predict how efficient a farm’s nutrient use is and influence management strategies to prevent nutrient loss. The New York phosphorus runoff index project started about fifteen years ago when Quirine and a large number of collaborators created a scoring system for how susceptible a field is to phosphorus loss. The NRCS (under the USDA) mandated that fields needed to be assessed according to land grant university nutrient recommendations for phosphorus levels before fertilizer or manure application. The original scoring system did not account for different management practices which slow nutrient loss and so Cornell’s SPEAR program received funding to re-draft the scoring system.

The entire interaction; starting with the NRCS creating a mandate with the purpose of ‘minimizing non-point source pollution of surface and groundwater resources’ and ‘protecting air quality’ to Cornell’s Spear program creating the scoring system, then farmers and consultants using it and providing feedback about user experience with the scoring system- its huge groups of people responding to each other and working together. It’s a slow process which can feel grid-locked sometimes but its been an awesome experience being surrounded by it and seeing how it all comes together.

This is almost everyone on the team. We don’t have ice cream during team meetings, but we probably should…

This is almost everyone on the team. We don’t have ice cream during team meetings, but we probably should…

Wheat Battles

Along with all of the corn and soybean trials that I have been scouting, maintaining, and documenting, we have several wheat trials in the mix. This past week we harvested our last wheat plot in the area- Pulaski, NY- and compared the varieties. I’ve never had much experience with wheat in general let alone harvesting it, so this was a new experience for me.

The excitement started out as soon as I arrived; they needed my truck battery to run the weigh wagon since it had suddenly been drained. After pulling my battery and getting the wagon running, we got out all of our equipment for measuring the test weight and moisture and a spreadsheet that calculated the tons per acre. Once we got all set up, the harvester went to work, carefully harvesting one row at a time and then dumping the load in the wagon to be tested and weighed before transferred to the truck. I had the opportunity to watch all of the testing take place for the first variety before jumping in and helping.

Fixing the wagon prior to harvest

Fixing the wagon prior to harvest

Retrieving a sample to be tested

Retrieving a sample to be tested

 

We had two different measuring instruments that gave us the moisture of the wheat of individual samples and then an average of three samples. In addition to moisture and test weight, we recorded the length of the wheat section that was planted and the weight the wagon displayed. On the pre-made spreadsheet, there was already a function that produced the tons per acre given the information we recorded and entered.

In this trial, we only had seven varieties of wheat, whereas most corn and bean plots have upwards of twenty. We had a range of tons per acre between 74 and 88, which for the field they were planted on was very impressive. The soil had been rock hard with little to no moisture for quite a long time and the wheat harvested around the plot had ranged from 26 to 120 tons per acre. We found that the lowest yielding variety was Cornell’s Erie wheat and the highest was Seedway’s 550.

Unfortunately this will be the only plot I will have had the opportunity to harvest, but it was definitely a unique and exciting experience.

Harvesting the wheat trial

Harvesting the wheat trial

Skip to toolbar