2019 Season Wrap-up

Even though plants don’t go in the ground until March, the farming season really begins in November. Most plants are out of the field  by then, and farm is put to bed for the winter, so our thoughts turn to planning the next season. Last November, we set a harvest target of 8,000 pounds for 2019, and as of the 6th of November 2019, we harvested 7,905 lbs. With three rows of carrots, three rows of green onions, as well as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli still left in the field for another two weeks, we should hit 8,000 by the end of the calendar year! 

Pounds are only one way that we measure the work of the farm:

  • We also harvested 38 different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and herbs
  • If we sold our produce through a CSA or farmers market, the direct market value of our crops was around $30,000
  • We harvested and delivered produce 50 times from May-November
  • We added more cultural and specialty foods including 5 lbs of ginger in the hoophouse! We also grew epazote (a mexican herb) for the first time, and it was wildly productive. We also grew dill for the first time and it was an underachiever.

We learned a lot and know what we need to do better next season for these crops (mostly choose a better variety, and fertilize more). Every farming season has its triumphs and disappointments, and the goal is to steadily increase the former, and minimize the latter as much as possible.

Triumphs:

Our summer squash production was huge. We averaged almost 3 pounds per bed foot of squash, the highest of any crop. Whenever new gardeners ask what they should grow at home, we recommend zucchini. It’s almost bulletproof, and grows productively in most soils. It is important to keep it watered regularly, and plan for two or three plantings across the season to keep production high.

We struggled with carrots and broccoli in 2018, but we crushed them in 2019! We grew almost 500 pounds of carrots and we are on track to grow even more in 2020. Everyone loves carrots and they are one of the crops that genuinely tastes better when grown locally. Broccoli is the absolutely most requested vegetables from food bank customers, and we finally had really solid production over the whole season with nice sized heads.

 

 

Lettuce is another crop that we struggled with in 2018 but, with closer attention to choosing different varieties for different seasons, we really streamlined production. One of the most joyous things about the way we grew lettuce this season is that we mixed all the varieties for each season together and planted them together. They were so beautiful to watch grow, and volunteers regularly commented on how lovely they made the farm.

Disappointments:

We had a crop failure in the greenhouse of eggplant and peppers which resulted in no eggplant at all, and only a few dozen pounds of peppers this season. We know what went wrong, and we are on track to fix the problem for the 2020 season. Proper heat, lighting, and fertilizer in the greenhouse are critical to the success of those babies in the greenhouse.

Our tomato crop was afflicted on both ends. As soon as the tomatoes started turning red on the vine, the neighborhood crows started pecking holes in them. We have never had crows act like that on the farm before, and they didn’t stop until we put up some flashy tape that kept them out of the tomato rows. The remarkably cool, wet summer we had also resulted in the tomatoes getting late blight in September, meaning that we lost an entire month+ of production moving into the fall. They went from having a few brown speckles on the stems to the whole plant turning black in about 10 days. We ripped them out, and a volunteer took them to a local industrial composting facility. The kind of composting we do on the farm doesn’t kill the late blight, and any compost we made from those plants would have added more disease to the beds it was applied to. Despite these challenges, we still harvested over 500 pounds of tomatoes this summer.

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Despite some challenging weather, this was our most productive, organized, and comfortable season yet. For the first time we weren’t working on any major infrastructure projects, so all of our focus was on crop production and teaching our students, interns, and volunteers. We want everyone who comes to the farm to learn something new and leave knowing that they made their community stronger and more resilient. A huge thank you to everyone who helped out this growing season and to our South King County community that continues to provide endless love and support.

If you are interested in the specific pounds we harvested this season, take a look at the chart below. 

Crop Pounds
Basil 80
Beets 384
Berries 114
Bok Choy 545
Broccoli 147.5
Cabbage 109
Carrots 421
Cauliflower 59
Chard 67
Cilantro 42.5
Collards 92
Cucumbers 511
Dill 11
Epazote 40
Fennel 35
Garlic 181
Garlic Scapes 38.7
Ginger 5
Green Beans 206
Green Onions 186
Kale 191
Kohlrabi 398
Lettuce 721
Parsley 2
Peas 199
Peppers 24
Potatoes 148
Radish 169.5
Rhubarb 45.5
Sorrel 51
Spinach 179
Strawberry 19
Summer Squash 1496
Tomatillos 105
Tomato 534
Turnip 256
Winter Squash 79
Woody Herbs 14

Summer into Fall

As we settle into a Pacific Northwest fall and winter, we can’t help but look back on the busy, productive summer we had on the farm. August and September are always the busiest harvest months of the year for us. Cucumber, summer squash, green beans, and tomatoes all need to be picked every two or three days to stay productive, so our volunteers participated in three harvests a week at the peak of the season.

Volunteers Washing and Bunching Chard.jpg

Cucumbers and squash, (both members of the Cucurbit family) were our most prolific vegetables by weight. Most days we harvested over 100 pounds from that section of the field! We finally figured out how to grow really nice carrots this year, and we grew some of the biggest carrots any of us have ever seen. Other highlights include weekly strawberry and raspberry harvests, some beautiful eggplants, and ‘Prize Choy’ bok choy that has never failed us, regardless of what time of year we plant it.

Eggplants sunny

Last eggplant harvest of the season

As we pull plants out of the field at the end of the season, like the tomatoes we cut down a month ago, we are seeding cover crop. Our winter cover crop is mix of cereal rye and hairy vetch (with a scattering of peas for tender shoots in the spring). Together, this cover crop mix provides a multitude of benefits for our farm ecosystem. The plants in our specific mix suppress weed growth, fix nitrogen in the soil for fertilizer, create lots of plant material that we will compost to feed the soil in the future, and prevent erosion from the rain and wind we always get in the winter on the farm. The process of putting most of the farm to bed for the winter is always a little bittersweet, but after such a busy growing season, we (the soil and the farmers) are all ready for a little break.

Elk Run Farm has a matching gift of $20,000 on the table! Will you help us reach our goal?

20180115_130001Elk Run Farm has some exciting news: a private donor has agreed to match up to $20,000 in donations! After hearing all of our exciting plans for 2018, this donor challenged us to make a call for action to our community to match this gift dollar for dollar. From now until June, every dollar gifted to the farm will be doubled and help us build Elk Run Farm up to its full potential.

South King County is home to many census tracts that have extremely limited access to nutritious, affordable foods, including fruits and vegetables. Our food banks also struggle with this lack of access and fresh produce has become more of a luxury than a norm for communities that visit the food banks. Much of the fruits and vegetables that are donated to food banks are deemed unsellable by grocery stores, are a couple days away from the compost and are low in nutrition. Our food banks believe that everyone, regardless of income, deserves access to sustainably-grown, high quality fruits and vegetables. They wanted to change what they could offer to their clients.

20170804_105528In 2015, Elk Run Farm was born to do just that. All the produce we grow goes directly to our member food banks, and into clients’ homes in a matter of days. We’ll let our clients speak for themselves on how the farm has impacted their lives. One client, after receiving Swiss chard from our free farm stand, said, “You know what I will do with all this produce? Just throw it all together with some oil and garlic and stir fry it. This is really good stuff, you could sell it. This MADE my week!”

20170708_132548.jpgNow, we have a full growing season under our belt with several key infrastructure pieces in place. Our volunteers have helped us reached 10 different food banks in our region and have donated about 17,000 serving sizes. And the farm is still growing! This winter, a construction crew working right next to our parking lot set us up with a new field that has doubled our growing space. We’re working with 90+ high school students and a variety of youth groups to provide hands-on education about sustainable farming. With all this growth though, we are still not where we need to be. Our farm infrastructure still needs support so we can better serve our food bank clients and students.

With your gift, we can finish the infrastructure at Elk Run Farm. Will you donate $25 or more so we can reach our goal of $20,000 and receive the full match? Building up our farm infrastructure means more produce in the food banks, a more authentic farm experience for students and volunteers, and a stronger local food system. This money will pay for:

  • a well pump installationIMG_20180222_131024_241
  • electricity
  • a completed in-ground irrigation system
  • a farm-scale composting system
  • a walk-in cooler

Your gift will be matched, dollar-for-dollar, until June. So please consider donating now and doubling your gift! As a token of our appreciation, all donors who give $50 or more will receive a small jar of honey from our very first bee hives (while supplies last).

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Your support provides these major benefits:

  • Food bank clients have a long-term source of fresh, high quality produce, grown just for them and based on their preferences
  • Volunteers are connecting to each other, their community, and reconnecting to a food growing tradition
  • High school students get hands-on urban farming experience, and directly impact families experiencing hunger in their community
  • More food grown in South King County stays in South King County, helping build a more resilient local food system

Through your gift to Elk Run Farm, you support South King County as a place of abundance for food bank clients and the broader farm community.

To donate, visit our fundraiser or contact us at (813) 509-0105. We’d be happy to answer any questions.

Thank you for your unwavering support and friendship!

Love,

The Elk Run Farm Team

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Spring Updates

The farm is FINALLY starting to feel like a real farm. We have made so much progress on key pieces of infrastructure in the last month that I still find myself looking around in wonder.

We had another amazing AmeriCorps NCCC team out this year, for 2 ½ weeks, and the progress that they made has surpassed every expectation that I had for them.

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