Thursday, November 8, 2012

2012 season recap & off season happenings with NMEP

So... we haven't written our end of the year post, mostly because it just doesn't feel like an "end" quite yet. Our fall crops are still growing happily, looking perky and delicious in our hoop house and raised beds. Last Friday and Saturday we met a few folks at the Gifford Park plot to share our bounty, and we intend to do this a few more times as long as our plants keep growing. We also sold some greens to V. Mertz in the Old Market and started planting rye.

But now seems like the perfect time for an end of the growing season recap. Coupled with the recap is exciting news about our new partnership with No More Empty Pots, whose leadership believed months ago that we could start an urban farm and CSA program in Omaha. For some reason they didn't think we were crazy... or maybe they thought we were just crazy enough!

So, before the season summary let's rewind a bit here and get the whole story -- back to last December. In sweaters and scarves, with coffees and teas in hand, we sat down with the visionaries behind NMEP (Nancy and Susan) at downtown Blue Line. We told them (gulp) that the seven of us wanted to start an urban farm, and basically had no idea how to go about it. We didn't even have any viable land. After our little spiel Nancy and Susan offered us all their connections and support. They said, "Whatever you do, dream big! What's your big picture? It will happen. The universe provides." 

We left the table that day feeling really encouraged, like somehow this actually was going to happen. The biggest wrench in our plans at that time? We had no land and less than three months to throw it all together before our seed arrived and needed to be put in the ground. But, we did have farming skills, building skills, heaps of creativity, a passion for growing food and being connected with our land-base, some marketing skills, some financial skills (Ali studied economics), and a good community in near-North Omaha where we all lived.

Needless to say, it was a struggle and it was incredibly interesting at times. There were moments when we almost killed each other (while building raised beds, during dragging meetings that went for hours, while spreading mounds of dirt taller than any of us sans skid loader and arguing about how to do it, during times of high relationship drama, the day we realized all our tools were missing... et cetera). Somehow at the end of the day we were fine. We had our friendship to fall back on.

So, where are we now? Well... we can't support ourselves by selling what we grow (yet), but we were able to withstand a heinous drought and deliver produce and herbs weekly to our members. We foraged mulberries, gooseberries and cherries in the spring, peaches and plums in summer, pears, apples, and mushrooms this fall. We canned and preserved a lot of our harvest, which we will feast on all winter. We sold to a few restaurants who seemed to really like our veggies. We grew pumpkins for Upstream and they brewed a delicious pumpkin ale. We got to explore gardening, eat pizza, and sing songs with folks at the Gifford Park Community Garden's free summer youth program. We had two really successful community events; our Secret Cafe in the winter and our Hoophouse Hoedown in spring. We took ourselves out for lunch once a month to celebrate and relax (mostly at Dixie Quicks because we are obsessed with that place, but also at Big Mama's and the French Bulldog). We made some new friends doing work and/or supporting the local food movement in Nebraska and Iowa, and deepened connections with old friends. We refined our future dreams as individuals and as a collective. We pondered what it really means to function collectively and how we can create a business model that is collaborative, healthy, relationship focused instead of solely profit-oriented, yet still reasonable and able to support its workers. Further, we became a new source of naturally-grown produce in North Omaha and offered support to those who were curious about growing their own food. Ultimately our hope is that everyone can be more involved in the cultivation and/or collection of their own food sources.

Some of us will probably move into other "career" paths and not pursue urban farming (or rural farming) forever. Some of us really want to farm. Some of us want to someday move beyond farming and into more natural, mutually beneficial relationships with land and animals (read permaculture or re-wilding). However, we hope that Big Muddy Urban Farm continues for whatever period of time it needs to.

Right now we are excited to see increasing food security and organic practices in and around Omaha. We loved our CSA members this season and look forward to seeing returning members next year and also new faces. We will continue to attend the Benson Farmer's Market because in a lot of ways it feels like home to us, as does Jane's Health Market who supported us and provided us with processing space this year. We also wouldn't trade the kiddos and adults at the Gifford Park Community Garden for anything.

Big Muddy Urban Farm wouldn't exist without our CSA Members. Friday nights and Saturday mornings feel strange now because we are all so used to seeing and chatting with a group of 20+ folks. We like the CSA model because it emphasizes relationship, which makes a lot of sense to us.

We also wouldn't exist without Chris Foster (Gifford Park's Community Garden Co-coordinator) who we plan to shower with pies in the near future in thanks for all he offered us this growing season (tools, a truck, land, connections, etc.)

You know who else Big Muddy Urban Farm wouldn't exist without? Stephanie Ahlschwede of the Big Garden, because without their partnership (and offering their little greenhouse behind the Blue Flamingo Thrift Store) we wouldn't have had seedlings. The Big Garden was incredibly generous to us, but to no surprise, they are a rad organization helping folks start their own community gardens inside and outside Omaha.

And who else? City Sprouts. Without a failed proposal for a similar urban farm project (albeit a completely different model -- non-profit versus business) we would have never pursued starting our own urban farm.

Now back to No More Empty Pots and our future ... Thanks to their generosity we now have an office space. Yes, our very own! We also will do work for them during the off season (and even possibly during the growing season) in the areas of entrepreneurship and mentoring, marketing, and aiding in the design and build of their urban agriculture demonstration site. No More Empty Pots shares our vision for greater food security in Omaha as well as skill sharing around food, and mentoring folks who are interested in growing food in the city.

Wow, it's been a whirlwind. We've pushed ourselves to some crazy limits, and we've really enjoyed ourselves. Winter projects are on the horizon. We promise to keep you updated... even when we are buried in snow.

hip hip hooray,
cait & the big muddy crew (ali, brent, matt, james, dan, & tyler)