Saturday, April 25, 2015

Visit to MOSES Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin

By Andrew Mefferd, Johnny's Selected Seeds

DAY 2 — MOSES 2015 Conference

Johnny's booth at MOSES
Johnny's at MOSES 2015
The next day I headed to the MOSES (Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services) Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I had packed my plaid, since I'd heard that was the thing to wear to the MOSES conference. And, indeed, there was a lot of plaid being sported. Though it’s hard to say if there was more than any other gathering of farmers.

The first thing that really impressed me was the size of the conference. Organizers said there were more than 3500 attendees over the three days. Besides the sheer number of participants, I was impressed by their positive energy and enthusiasm. There were a lot of good ideas and sharing going on, both at the trade show and at the many workshops scheduled for the conference.

Upper Midwest Territory Sales Rep,
Ken Fine shares some of the finer points
of Johnny's pumpkins
My first stop was the Johnny’s booth, where our upper Midwest sales rep, Ken Fine was manning the booth and talking to customers. One of the best things about trade shows is the opportunity to spend time at the booth meeting our customers. I learn more about growing by talking to customers, and finding out what their challenges and questions are, than any other way.

Though of course there were many other, more formal ways to learn as well. MOSES had organized many educational workshops for growers both days of the conference, plus a pre-conference “Organic University” for those who really wanted to go in-depth.

Sandy Dietz, whom I had visited the day before, gave a good presentation along with her husband, Lonny, about how to transition out of off-farm jobs and into farming full time. They speak from experience, as they both have made the transition.

I also went to an excellent presentation by Adam Montri of Michigan State University, called “Are You Making Any Money in Your High Tunnel?” He pointed out how even though almost anything grows faster and bigger in a high tunnel, profitability is not assured. He presented some practical strategies farmers can use to track expenses and set prices to make sure they are profiting off their high-tunnel produce.

This was a great conference that I would consider attending again in the future. The food was great, and MOSES made every effort to source the food from local farms whenever possible. The other learning and networking opportunity was the huge tradeshow, which took up the entire floor of a basketball court and spilled out into the arena. I headed back to Maine exhausted and at the same time energized by the people I had met and all I learned, ready to put it to good use this coming season.

Sometimes a great conference is just what I need to get ready for another season.

Learn more...
  • Visit our Commercial Sales hub to learn more, meet your territory sales representative, or view our upcoming tradeshow calendar »

Read Andrew's Day 1 Minnesota Blog Post • Visit to Whitewater Gardens' Geoexchange Greenhouse in Altura, MN »

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Visit to Whitewater Gardens’ Geoexchange Greenhouse in Altura, Minnesota

By Andrew Mefferd, Johnny's Selected Seeds

DAY 1 — Whitewater Gardens’ Geoexchange Greenhouse, Altura, Minnesota

Earlier this year, I flew out to La Crosse, Wisconsin to attend the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) annual conference. On the way in to the conference, I stopped by to visit with Sandy Dietz at Whitewater Gardens Farm in Altura, Minnesota.

I was interested to see the farm because they are incorporating a number of cutting-edge greenhouse techniques in order to grow vegetables in short-season Minnesota as efficiently as possible.

While they have several other greenhouses plus areas for field production (all under a blanket of snow at the time), what I was really there to see this visit was their brand new 46'x126' geothermally heated greenhouse.

Altura, MN in Winona County
This greenhouse represents the wave of the future when it comes to energy efficiency. The entire perimeter of the greenhouse is protected by a frost wall extending 4' down into the ground. This wall minimizes the amount of cold that penetrates through to the greenhouse, a worthwhile measure for reasons that were obvious on the freezing day that I visited. Insulation laid 4' down under the floor further reduces the amount of cold that seeps through the ground into the greenhouse.

One of the most unusual features of this greenhouse is that geothermal energy is the primary source of fuel for its heating system. Ground-loop geothermal heating is a technology that takes heat from the earth and builds it up to usable levels with a heat pump (also known as a ground source heat pump, or GSHP). The water is heated and then circulated through tubes in the floor, which literally heats the greenhouse from the ground up.

(Equally notable is that geoexchange technology allows for excess heat to be transferred back into the ground — or, for cold air to be pumped to a cold-storage area, for example — as well as for heating.)

When more heat is necessary than the geothermal can provide, a forced-air propane backup system kicks in to make up the difference. What I will be interested to learn after a few seasons of operation is what proportion of the required heating the geothermal can provide versus how much the propane backup system will have to supply.

Whitewater Geothermal Greenhouse
To date, there are very few geothermal greenhouse systems in the United States. But based on the fact that energy is the second-largest cost for many greenhouse growers after labor, I would be surprised if we don’t see more growers following the Whitewater Gardens lead.

Another innovation Dietz is pursuing is to install Solawrap greenhouse covering this spring. Most heated greenhouses using flexible plastic coverings have two layers of plastic inflated by a small fan. The air between the layers of plastic provides a layer of insulation, greatly increasing the heat-trapping properties beyond a single layer of plastic.

Instead of using a fan to inflate the layers of plastic, Solawrap uses two layers of plastic with bubbles in between to form the insulative layer. It looks like a giant sheet of bubble wrap. The advantage is that it maintains the air layer, without having to constantly run a fan to keep it inflated. The product is from Europe and not widely used in the US at this point.

I look forward to checking back in with Sandy in the future to see how all these innovations are working out on her farm. I really enjoyed the visit and am always impressed with the things I can learn about from our customers.

Learn more...

Check back for our next blog entry —
Day 2 of Andrew's Trip to Michigan & Minnesota

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day 2015 from all of us here at Johnny's! 


How are YOU celebrating today? Leave a comment under this post and let us know.

Ever wonder how Earth Day started? This observance arose from an interest in gathering national support for environmental issues, from San Francisco activist John McConnell and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Enter Our Farm Dog Photo Contest

CONTEST ALERT! 


We want to see photos of your farm dog! A lot of our customers have 4-legged companions on their farms, so we've teamed up with Planet Dog to give away dog toys from their Orbee-Tuff® Produce Line.

Click the photo below and follow the instructions on how to enter:


Contest ends April 27th, good luck!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Canadian Farmers: Share your Feedback

Calling all Canadian Farmers!
The National New Farmer Coalition and the University of Manitoba have put together a survey to assess the needs of new farmers in Canada where it concerns policy and educational opportunities...
And they want to hear from you!
The results from this survey will be used to develop a National New Farmer Policy Platform that we aim to share with all levels of government.

 Take the 20-30 minutes survey here>




All respondents will be entered into a drawing for cash and other prizes, including $500, $200, and $100 and non-cash prizes of: 

The survey is also available as a PDF that can be emailed or mailed to you. Please contact julia.laforge@umanitoba.ca or newfarmercoalition@gmail.com for details.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Culinary Trends in 2015: Collards

Johnny’s Product Managers are weighing in on the National Restaurant Association’s list of this year’s top culinary trends. Last week, Vegetable Product Technician, Steven Rodrigue, discussed Micro Greens. The week prior, Vegetable Product Technician, Steve Bellavia, covered the topic of Hot Peppers. This week, Vegetable Product Technician, Julius Koenig, will be sharing his thoughts on Collards:


  Collards

  By Julius Koenig

  Vegetable Product Technician

Collards (Brassica oleracea) have been a staple vegetable for the southern U.S. for many decades. Now collards are becoming haute cuisine in many dining establishments across the country. The reason behind this interest could be the nutritional content; collards are packed with vitamins and minerals, also providing a great source of fiber. There has also been the comparison between kale and collards, which has many people debating which vegetable is their favorite.
Flash
At Johnny's, we offer three varieties of collards. Whether you’re looking for a Georgia type, known for savoyed leaves, or the Vates types with leaves that are smooth and flat, we have the selection to meet your needs. ‘TopBunch F1’, a lightly savoyed Georgia type that is very quick to mature in 50 days.  ‘Flash F1’ is a Vates type, with a beautiful dark green smooth leaf. ‘Champion’, our open-pollinated option, is a Vates type with large dark green leaves, but is also the best choice for baby leaf. 
Long-time Johnny’s Product Technician Steve Bellavia, who has trialed Brassicas for more than 15 years, says, “I prefer collards to kale, due to their sweetness.”  Interested in trying collards yourself? A simple Google search will yield you hundreds of recipes to try; from the traditional steamed collards to collard sushi. When cooking collards, don’t neglect the fibrous stem, which can be steamed or sautéed minutes before the leaves are thrown in the pot. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Culinary Trends in 2015: Micro Greens

Johnny’s Product Managers are weighing in on the National Restaurant Association’s list of this year’s top culinary trends. Last week, Vegetable Product Technician, Steve Bellavia, covered the topic of Hot Peppers. The week prior, Vegetable Product Manager, Pete Zuck and Plant Breeder, John Navazio discussed Root Vegetables. This week, Product Technician, Steven Rodrigue, will be sharing his thoughts on Micro Greens:


Micro Greens

By Steven Rodrigue

Vegetable Product Technician


Spicy Micro Mix
Many growers have found micro greens to be a worthwhile addition to their offerings at farmer’s

markets and directly to chefs. Not only are they easy to grow, but the quick turnaround from seeding to harvest is a major advantage. The attributes of micro greens that are pleasing to the eye and the palate allow for versatility in the kitchen and inspire chefs with their ability to enhance the presentation of any dish.

Using micro greens in place of finely chopped, full-size greens and herbs allows the consumer to see where the flavor in their meal is coming from. By garnishing with micros, your dish becomes elegant, refined, and subtly sophisticated. Diverse flavor profiles provide micro greens with additional potential beyond garnish. Many of the micros grown from herbs complement desserts superbly with flavors ranging from sweet to tart to licorice-like. In addition to flavor, color and texture are qualities to consider when pairing micro greens with a particular dish.


There are limitless ways for how micro greens can accompany your next meal, but here are just a few:
  • As the scaled-down version of herbs and vegetables, use micros on scaled-down versions of meals. Top your miniature burgers with the micro green of your preferred flavor, texture, and color. 
  • Plan for the holidays: use bright reds and greens for Christmas and arrange micros on your hors d'oeuvre. 
  • Add a whole new level of garnish and flavor to your cocktails.