Organic News and Commentary
From Maine
                Friday, January 4th, 2019
               Volume 28 Issue 01


 In This Issue of The Wood Prairie Seed Piece:

  Short Days, Steady Work.

     Aroostook County, Maine, Logging Camp. Circa 1895. In the Fall, after farming was done for the year, local men would often take to the woods to work in isolated logging camps until the Spring.   Typically they were provided very rustic accommodations, hot meals and earned $1/day, working six days/week. Woods work would continue through Winter’s cold and snow until mud-season came around in March or April.  Then, the focus would once again shift back to farming and growing potatoes.

       Our farm business is predictably busy every Winter.  We pre-grade our entire organic potato crop from November through January.  This practice allows us to be ready to handle the flood of orders which ship out during the narrow February to May window during Spring’s northward march.
      Every year we enjoy being the first farmers in Northern Maine to vicariously experience the coming of your Spring.  We sure do like that.
Caleb, Jim & Megan Gerritsen & Family
Wood Prairie Family Farm
Bridgewater, Maine
.The National Geographic Stumbles Tackling Organic Farming.

Organic Farming on a Large Scale. Will the future leave room for Family Farmers?

 In the recent article entitled, “We Don’t Have Enough Organic Farms. Why Not?”  the National Geographic shares its typically beautiful photography, a high standard we’ve all come to expect from NG. These dazzling shots of big operations by George Steinmetz do not disappoint.

      However, don't go expecting a balanced view of modern organic farming.  Sadly, the accompanying text offers an interesting but shallow foray into the world of organic farming. The article has a distinct fascination with very large-scale operations.

     This issue of "scale" is an increasingly critical discussion within organic circles. The unmistakable trend within agriculture of steady consolidation and concentration - now that Industrial Ag has set its sights on the organic market - represents an existential threat to real organic family farmers who are severely disadvantaged both by economies of scale and a heavily stacked deck in Federal agricultural policy which unashamedly favors and subsidizes large corporations.

       For example, one corporate operation based in California grows 34,000 acres of Certified Organic vegetables, primarily carrots. It happens to be one of the largest vegetable operations in the world.  In the United States fully 25% of all fresh market carrots are now organic because Industrial Ag has moved in.

       As a society we must ask ourselves a very basic question, "Will we maintain room for family farmers to exist?"  That is, practically speaking, do we want our nation's "organic" carrots to be grown by a tiny handful of huge, distant corporate operations each growing 20,000 acres of carrots?

      As organic family farmers, we would argue instead of a single mega factory farm, our country would be much better off with the decentralized production
from 10,000 independent organic family farmers, each growing a couple of acres of carrots and each serving in valuable roles as employers and active and committed members of America's rural communities.

      In recent years Industrial Ag has steadily been worming its way into organic farming. The harsh reality is, with huge scale comes concentrated economic and political power.   Bottom-line-driven Industrial Ag has not been shy about throwing its weight around in order to gain preferential treatment and skirt traditional and legal organic requirements from corporate-biased regulator USDA.

      As their dominance grows, expect Industrial Ag to work to further dilute both the traditional definition of organic and the organic integrity which you and your family have come to rely upon. 

     Here's one important fact you would never suspect after reading this NG article: as of 2016, 73% of all Certified Organic farmers are family farmers who farm 179 Acres or less.
     After all, it was organic family farmers who invented organic farming and who founded  the organic community.   We family farmers are still the vast majority of organic farms.   However, it is this same group of local, honest family-scale organic farms – located in all 50 States - whose existence is now increasingly being threatened by the flood of new, dubious mega corporate Industrial factory farms, entranced by organic price premiums.  They are forcefully pushing family farmers like us into the abyss.

Caleb, Jim & Megan

Click Here for Wood Prairie Certified Organic Cover Crop Seed.
Special Offer: FREE Organic Caribe' Certified Seed Potatoes!

          One of our favorite workhorse varieties of potatoes is the very early Organic Caribe', bred by our friend Hielke De Jong, the now retired Ag Canada potato breeder stationed for decades in nearby Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.   Originally designed and bred as a Canadian export variety for Cuba, it turns out Caribe’ performs even better in a non-tropical environments – meaning it’s a sensation for the lower 47 States, plus the northern half of Florida, and Alaska.  Organic Caribe’ is the only variety we have ever admonished ‘should be planted in every garden.’

        Organic Caribe’ (Spanish for ‘Caribbean’) has a beautiful, brilliant purple skin with pearly white flesh.  It is an excellent eating variety, whether as a new potato or a Winter-long storage variety.  The intense purple skin color will be brightest and last longest in storage when growing conditions were not hot or dry.  In our experience, the color remains through Christmas then starts to fade over the rest of the Winter.  However, tuber quality and taste remains top notch all Winter long so we consider this a good keeper.

       Twenty-five years ago, noting  it’s extra early maturity, scientists at University of Rhode Island issued a recommendation to grow Caribe’ as a stand-alone tactic for surviving that era’s severe Northeastern onslaught by Colorado Potato Beetles.

       But don’t take our word for it! Grow this great variety and see for yourself.   Earn yourself a FREE 1 Lb. Sack of Organic Caribe’ Seed Potatoes (Value $11.95) when your next order totals $39 or more.  FREE Organic Caribe’ Certified Seed Potatoes Offer ends 11:59 PM on Monday January 7.  Please use Promo Code WPFF441. Your order and FREE Sack of Organic Caribe’ Certified Seed Potatoes must ship no later than May 5, 2019. Offer may not be combined with other offers.  Click or call TODAY!


Click Here for our Organic Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.

Organic Caribe'. The one potato which should be in every garden.

Sorting Spuds on Wood Prairie Family Farm. A near perfect rop of Organic Caribe'
Brand New Wood Prairie Video on ‘Grading’ Caribe’ Potatoes.

This week we were grading out a beautiful crop of Organic Caribe’ Certified Seed Potatoes and Megan decided to record the effort and turn it into our new You Tube video (2:09). Find it – along with dozens of others - posted online on our Wood Prairie You Tube Channel.

In this new video, Jim empties the last of 2000 pounds of field run Caribe’ from a 4’ x 4’ x 4’ wooden pallet box, using the forklift and “Box Dumper.” Potatoes land into a foam padded hopper. The hopper then meters out potatoes onto two in-series “Haines’ Brushers” which dry brush clean the cascading spuds.

Next, tubers hit the wood “Haines’ Drop Sizer.” We bought this wooden Drop Sizer used at an auction twenty-five years ago (more precisely, we bought three identical wood Drop Sizers at farm auctions for $5 each and built-over the best one and stripped parts off the other two). Our Drop Sizer was built by our friends, Freddy and Junior (Fred’s father) Haines at Haines Manufacturing, in nearby Presque Isle, probably 50-60 years ago. Gone are the days of wooden equipment, but Haines Mfg is still going strong to this day fabricating from scratch innovative potato handling equipment, always painted red.

Jim’s elbows fly fast working on the “Roller Table” sorting (“grading” or “racking over”) for size, quality and ultimate market destination. The impact of drops or falls is minimized by the use of foam pads to avoid bruising. Way back during our harvests with hand crews, we would always caution our eleven and twelve year-old hand potato pickers to “treat ‘em gentle just like you would an egg” to prevent potatoes from getting bruised.

All Winter we keep the potatoes in the cellar at 38ºF because that’s the ideal temperature for storing Seed Potatoes long term. Jim prefers to grade barehanded for speed and keeps warm both from the work and from wearing three layers of vests (two wool and one Carhartt) which allows fingers to keep functioning despite the cold.

Caleb & Jim

Click Here for Our Organic Wood Prairie Maine Certified Seed Potatoes.

Wood Prairie Family Farm Photos.

Snowy Wood Prairie Family Farm Driveway. Looking in westward from Kinney Road towards our collection of farm buildings, hidden from view. We’ve experienced persistent snow and lots of cold since October. So far, we’ve had 51” of snow in a dozen snow events beginning with October 24.

Caleb on Oliver Tractor Blowing Snow. With the full moon before Christmas overhead, Caleb uses our seven-foot tractor-mount snowblower to blow snow into the woods. The tractor has logging-style ‘ice-ring’ chains for traction.

Blowing Through Head High Drifts. With multiple passes, Caleb breaks up six foot high drifts of snow piled on the north side of our office, prior to a forecast of heavy rain. The snow blower works hard and throws the snow thirty to forth feet out of the way.

Saturday Night: Unloading a Truckload of Organic Ground Rock Fertilizer.  The truck was supposed to arrive noontime on that Saturday before Christmas. However you never know what to expect with trucking and we ended up unloading 30,000 pounds of organic fertilizer from this truck beginning at 8pm. The hard-working long-haul truck driver was a young man in his twenties who emigrated from Ethiopia to the United States just a few years ago. His answers to Jim’s two questions were: Yes, he had been treated well since he came to the USA; and his family was in Denver. After being on the road since November, he expected to make it home to Colorado by Christmas or New Year’s Day.

Caleb Putting Away Last Tote Sack of Organic Fertilizer. We get our organic ground rock fertilizer custom-blended from Amish-owned Lancaster Ag Products in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The fertilizer comes in heavy 2900-pound “Tote Sacks” (aka “Sling Bags”). We apply between 1000# and 2000# per acre of this dry powder blend to mineralize the soil. The amount applied varies depending on the needs of the field.

Shoveling Snow Off Roof Prior to Heavy Rain.
Caleb, and high schooler farm-hand Nate, use snow scoops to shovel off two to three feet of accumulated snow from our most stubborn roofs. The tractor-mount snowblower is used to blow the piled up snow away, making room to dump more snow. A day or two later an inch or two of rain fell. Deep snow which sponges up a significant Winter rain gets exponentially heavy and has the capacity to collapse roofs. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Emptied Potato Pallet Boxes Pushed Out of Cellar. After the potatoes in a field-run wooden pallet box have been graded out, the empty box is shoved outside creating a long line ready to be carted away. Caleb’s sister, Amy, got her driver’s license this Fall, and had saved up her earnings from potato harvest. Caleb worked his magic and found this black Ford Ranger pickup for her and it was an incredible deal. It had low miles and was resting down on the coast. It had received some minor damage from a tree falling on it. It runs like a top and all Amy has had to do is buy a new set of studded winter tires. The tractor tire and wheel in the bed add weight and help the studs dig into the ice, making driving in the winter a lot safer.

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Purpose.

Recipe: Winter Salad with Spiced Maple Vinaigrette.

3 T pure maple syrup
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 whole allspice berries
1 small whole clove
1 whole star anise
1/2 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
2 T apple-cider vinegar
1/3 c neutral oil, such as grapeseed or vegetable
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 oz mesclun salad mix
5 oz head frisee, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces
1 small carrot
1 small parsnip
1 small turnip
1/4 c shelled sunflower seeds, toasted
4 oz aged sharp Cheddar, crumbled

To make the vinaigrette, combine the maple syrup, cinnamon, allspice, clove, star anise, ginger, and 1 T water in a 1-quart saucepan. Simmer on medium-low heat to infuse the flavors and thicken slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. Whisk in the oil in a slow stream and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Assemble the salad by combining the mesclun and frisee in a large bowl. Peel the carrot, parsnip, and turnip. Using the peeler, shave each into thin ribbons into the bowl. Add the sunflower seeds and half the cheese. Whisk the vinaigrette to recombine, then toss the salad with enough to coat. Serve sprinkled with the remaining cheese.


Winter Salad with Spiced Maple Vinaigrette.
Photo by Angela Wotton.
Mailbox: Long Gone Potato Barrels and Plowing in Warmth.

Long Gone Potato Barrels.

Wonder what happened to all the potato barrels? We had two of them in the barn when we sold the farm in 2012. 

Portland, Maine

Back in the winters during the 1970s I worked as a Cooper at Bridgewater Barrel. We were paid piece rate ($0.80/barrel) and once one had learned the tricks, by hustling and sweating it for nine hours you could 'make' 50 barrels per day. $40/day was BIG money back then! I'd come in at 4:30 am and get done by coffee break at 2pm. I could get work done on the farm after making my quota. Now all those family farmers who used the 11-peck cedar-potato-barrels are either dead or long out-of-business. So, of necessity, the Aroostook barrel trade shifted over to novelty and rustic-themed display barrels. Like the ones you might see in Hannafords or Walmart displaying sausage or other goods.


Plowing in Warmth.

We just got a 2008 F250 pickup w/plow and 46,000 miles on it. I've always plowed with the Kubota, not the luxury of a pickup with heat and windows. It will be a game changer.

Tamwork, NH

For many years I plowed with a gas tractor and a fixed 7' blade angled right, no cab, no heat. Plowing in the woods was one thing. Plowing around the barns and house, in the open with the NW wind blowing was quite another thing. After 5 hours in a snowsuit my beard and eyebrows would be all iced up. At that point it was time to go inside and thaw out my feet by the woodstove. A 4WD pickup with heat is definitely the better way to go.


 Caleb & Jim & Megan Gerritsen
 Wood Prairie Family Farm
 49 Kinney Road
 Bridgewater, Maine 04735
 (207) 429 - 9765 Certified Organic, From Farm to Mailbox