Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Portage County Master Gardeners Garden Walk: Whitefeather Organics, LLC

I am deeply interested in organic farming practices and sustainable food. So when the Portage County Master Gardeners Garden Walk included a business, Whitefeather Organics in their gardens to visit, I was so there.

I have to hand out kudos to anyone trying to live the life, walking the talk of sustainability and organics. Farmer Tony confided to me that he is certainly not getting rich doing it, and that he works three jobs in the winter to make this work.

During my two conversations with him about his lifestyle, project, and his goals, I didn't tell him I blog about gardening, that I am the daughter of a local dairy farmer (who is far from sustainable), nor that I dabble in landscaping, native plants, and propagation. All of this does help me analyze exactly what he has going on at Whitefeather Organics.

Tony Whitefeather (Until I read his brochure I totally missed that the name of his business could be his actual name! As they have a huge mock feather at the entrance to the farm and there were numerous feathers strewn about, no doubt from the free-range white chickens, I just assumed...) and his family and business are if not off the grid, VERY close to it. They have solar panel on their barn, house, by their sand point for their greenhouse. As they have a fairly large commercial walk-in cooler, I would assume for food safety reason, they cannot be totally disconnected from the grid. Those things pull down some current, and if your are doing solar and have to make assurances of food safety, you just can't totally disconnect, not on dark, rainy days in fall, not if you are selling chicken, eggs, and pork.

Farmer Tony, as his marketing refers to him, has been part of a cadre of like-minded farm to market growers who pushed for an EBT at the Farm market at Stevens Point, WI. He has also lent his expertise to the Central Rivers Farmshed Organization. He also is not just pesticide and herbicide-free, but is running through the hoops of being certified organic.

But sustainability is much more the focus of his farm. As his marketing brochure points out, "Sustainability for the community is the goal of our farm, and we keep that in mind in every aspect from where we get our energy to how we build our buildings."

He goes on to talk about his crops and his compost, about which he waxed almost poetically about how he has pictures of the steam coming off the pile as he turns it that almost obliterate him and him tractor. When I asked him he said the temperature of his compost reaches about 160 degrees (Fahrenheit), a feat I thought nearly impossible in central Wisconsin. (Of course, this summer, that's only 60 degrees above the ambient temps!)

Of his crop practices, he says, "Crop rotation and garden separation are used to control disease and pests. For soil nutrition we use intense cover cropping, grazing, and a large farm-based compost." Even the feed he feeds to his animals is organic and locally ground.

Still, with my experienced eye, I can see Farmer Tony has his challenges each and every day.

Pretty to look at, cabbage butterflies are the parents of cabbage and broccoli worms! UGH! As his cabbage and broccoli did not appear totally overrun with the worms,he must be using Spinosad, which is certified for organic use, but which I am holding back on using.

The heat and drought are not doing Farmer Tony any favors.

One thing I noticed, with all his composting and good soil practices, his soil is very poor in regards to incorporated organic material. My sister-in-law's and my family garden is growing on my better soil, right from the get-go. Farmer Tony has been working on this soil since 2006.

One of the two herbs I could see being grown by Farmer Tony, lemon grass. Basil is the other.

Plugs for fall harvest in flats.

Basil growing in the greenhouse.

I enjoyed speaking with Farmer Tony and am rooting for him and his many endeavors.

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