Thursday, August 25, 2011

Seed Flats, Flameweeding and Much More with Lucky Dog Organic Farm

We're pleased to share another report on the progress of Catskills CRAFT, a networking group for beginning farmers in our region. Sonia Janiszewski, the group's coordinator, has provided us with another summary of this month's visit to Lucky Dog Organic Farm in Hamden, NY. Cross posted from catskillscraft.org


Lucky Dog Organic Farm welcomed a dozen beginning farmers from the Catskills Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) on Monday, August 8th for a farm tour and discussion of how the farm has adapted to expansion. Kalan Joslin, the field manager, and Richard Giles, owner, led the group on a tour through the farm’s multiple greenhouses and produce fields in Hamden, NY. The group ended the evening with a potluck social.

In fewer than ten years, Lucky Dog Organic Farm has grown to encompass a farm store, wholesale operation, community supported agriculture (CSA) program, farmers market sales and two on-farm restaurants. Approximately fifty percent of their revenue comes from their CSA and farmers markets (Pakatakan farmers market near Margaretville, the Callicoon farmers market, the Cooperstown farmers market and the Socrates Sculpture Park Greenmarket in New York City). The balance is sold through regional distributors. This accelerated pace of expansion seems second nature to Richard and Holley White-Giles who have planted their family along with their crops in this small river-bottom town.


The farm is comprised of 45 owned acres and has expanded onto an additional 115 leased acres where they grow organic produce and cover crop used to enrich farm-made compost. With the increase in land came the need for efficiencies in techniques, equipment and staff.

With Kalan demonstrating, the participants were shown the unique block seeder that Lucky Dog traded in for its traditional cell seeding technique in an effort to reduce plastic waste. They begin with a soil mix and water that when fed through the block seeder, produces “flats” of seeded soil that are placed in reused plastic bread trays. This system both eliminates waste and cuts a labor-intensive farm task down to a two-person operation.


As do all organic farms, Lucky Dog battles with weeds each season. Last season, Lucky Dog was awarded a grant through the Watershed Agricultural Council that enabled them to purchase a tractor-mounted vegetable bed flameweeder. This piece of machinery burns propane fuel through torches aimed at the surface of the crop beds in order to destroy small emerging weeds either just before planting or just before the crop emerges. With this flameweeder, they are able to sweep quickly across these areas without disturbing the soil, to kill new flushes of weeds, decreasing the staff time dedicated to weeding and the fossil fuels that would be required of several high-horse power tillage trips doing the same job.

While new introductions in techniques and equipment have enabled Lucky Dog to expand through efficiencies, staffing and teaming has been a key factor in the farm’s ability to adapt. Lucky Dog employs six year round and 16 additional seasonal staff at the farm. In 2002, Kalan, the CRAFT visit’s tour leader, began working at Lucky Dog and this job became a passion. Now a truly indispensable employee, Kalan helps to manage the farm with Richard and works closely with the other crew members, training and sharing expertise.

For more information about Lucky Dog Organic Farm , visit www.luckydogorganic.com, or stop by their farm store the next time you pass through Hamden.

Catskills CRAFT visits are scheduled at a different farm each month through November. Visit www.catskillscraft.org for a full schedule.

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