TN Organic Growers Conference

Over spring break, I got the opportunity to attend the Tennessee Organic Growers Conference in Nashville. There were some incredibly interesting workshops given on subjects like drip irrigation, urban farming, and livestock management. Growers of all sizes attended. There was much sharing of information

Lunch was provided and all food was donated by growers attending the conference. As we all know, lunch time is keynote address time. Sweet! The keynote address was given by the incredible Joel Salatin, one of the most renowned organic farmers in the country. Very inspiring for the up-and-coming young organic farmers in attendance (there were many).

Fun times were had by all and I came back a greatly inspired and slightly more knowledgeable intern.


The Kitchen Garden

This past Tuesday Sarah and I did some planting at the new Kitchen Garden, within the UT Trial Gardens here on UT campus. This area is encircled by the bright purple fence that you may have seen while driving down Neyland Drive.  While it is in it’s beginning stages, this garden is set up as a culinary garden with demonstrations and examples for growing edible goodies, with the UT Culinary School buying some of the produce. (Sarah can answer questions regarding purpose and plans in more detail.) The garden is beautiful! All of the beds are raised and some are table beds with handicap accessibility. There are three areas for composting, a very interesting vertical bed behind the raised beds and also an area for more traditional vertical gardening created with grid fence work.

Sarah and I planted the first veggies of the entire garden, starting with cabbage, broccoli, Purple Peruvian fingerling potatoes and more. While things are looking a little sparse for now, the potential for this Kitchen Garden is huge and I cannot wait to see it by mid-summer. If you want to check it out, upon entering the UT Trial Gardens and walking straight to the end of the Friendship Plaza hang a left down the gravel path and look for the purple fence. Honestly, you can’t miss it.

Happy Gardening!

Sustainable Agriculture at the Biltmore Estate

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. I had been one time before, but was looking forward to this visit because of their new agriculture related exhibit/area. Being such a big house in, what was then the middle of nowhere, it had to provide a number of its own fruits, vegetables, meats and other consumables. Not to say the house was founded on sustainable concepts, its enormous size is a testament to that, but that the owners have pushed for sustainable practices and green building projects as the times have changed. The Biltmore sits on thousands of acres, and the house actually contains four acres within its basement and five floors. One section of this vast expanse is known as Antler Ridge, which is where the newer agriculture exhibit, kitchen garden, petting zoo, and brand new Antler Village are. While visiting this area of the estate I was mainly interested in the kitchen garden and ag history exhibit.

In the exhibit were numerous old tractors and tools used to work the land on the Biltmore Estate. It was pretty interactive and had many things for the adults to read and some fun stuff for the kids to do. This exhibit wasn’t as much about sustainablilty, probably because sustainablility if around was in the fledgling stage, but the kitchen garden was all over it. This small scale garden is where the Biltmore grows its vegetables used in a couple different restaurants around the property. It was cool to see things like low tunnels, compost bins, and ground covers somewhere else other than our farm. The experience was good and I encourage everyone if they can to check out this newer exhibit and garden at the Biltmore Estate.

Farming in the City

On Saturday, I was given an opportunity to work with Fulton High School in their vegetable garden. Fulton’s Environmental Group along with Ms. Houser are implementing a garden project. Their goals from this are to get students interested in growing their own food and learning the environmental issues related to small scale farming. Because of the location of Fulton in the city, students do not have access to having an experience with gardening. So for this to be implemented will give the students an amazing opportunity. The project is in partnership with Knox County, Beardsley Farm, Ijams, and assistance of Mark Harmon, Knox County Commissioner and his wife, Becky,as well as many other teachers, and community members.

Saturday’s work included working on raised beds, building the sides of raised beds, and assembling the posts for a 3 compost bin. With the raised beds, cardboard was placed down and then compost and dirt filled in. I was fortunate to work with students on the compost bin assembling. The students measured posts, dug holes, leveled the posts, and mixes/poured concrete. The students were very interested in getting the system started and the turnout of students (especially on a Saturday morning) exceeded what everyone expected. It was a lot of hard work but a great experience for them.

At our unit, many of us have had farm experience either working on our family farms, other farms, or our own. We know what the beginning experience in vegetable gardening can do and what it has the power to do in the students’ lives. For these high schoolers to get this opportunity will impact them in more ways than they can imagine. It is a powerful tool to see plants growing, vegetables ripening, and using ones’ hands.

To find out more, listen to the WBIR story or become a fan of FHS Vegetable Garden on Facebook.


Spring Fever

What a week! It is no surprise that posts have slowed down here a bit. This week is Spring Break here at UT which is  code for Work Week! at the farm.  Most of us interns have been out between 3 and 5 days helping Mary and Grant to get this season’s cool crops in the ground. We’ve been tilling, hoeing, raking, digging, transplanting and seeding for many an hour and the place is finally starting to look like something that might bear some fruit. Peas, potatoes, broccoli, leeks, onions and many others have been let loose and we’re hoping for a prolific season. Tomato seeds were even started in the greenhouse giving us some hope for the coming warm and sunny weather. All in all it’s been a busy but productive week and we hope that your garden starting is going similarly!

Breaking Ground

Today was the day. This morning Grant, Daniel, and myself got out the tiller and began the process of preparing the ground. This was my first experience with a walk-behind tiller like this, with my only previous experience with a tiller being a tractor mounted one. Grant went over starting the tiller, shifting from the drive gears to the tilling ones, and other good practices to keep in mind while tilling. Daniel and I took shifts between rows for a little while, each row taking to passes with the 17″ wide tiller. He then took over while Jess and I cut potatoes in preperation for planting. Cuting them into chunks, about a square inch in size with atleast a couple of eyes on each chunk. Jess had experience with this while, once again, I was a first timer. Sanitation was emphasized by Mary. Between each potato cut we had to rinse our knives in a 10% bleach, 90%water mixture. This was to help to prevent bacteria from spreading from one to the other just incase there was a bad potato. After that we all worked together to plant some cabbage in the freshly tilled ground, where my duty was to mix some Black Kow compost and bone meal to put around our cabbage and help raise the phosphorus level. All in all a pretty busy day, and it was only half of one! I look forward to the work ahead.

ASHS and Epcot!

At the start of February, Annette and I traveled to Orland, FL for the Southern Region ASHS conference. Annette was the moderator for the vegetable section of the conference, and we each presented research findings from various studies we have conducted at UT’s Organic farm. Annette spoke on our high tunnel tomato research from the summer of 2009, which compared tomatoes grown inside and outside of the high tunnels for disease pressure, insect and physiological damage, yield, total marketable yield, fruit quality and also nutritional qualities including sweetness and amount of lycopene. I presented results on weed abundance from our spring reduced-tillage broccoli research, which utilizes living mulches as a method of weed management. Other topics at the conference included irrigation and water loss, high tunnels for strawberries during the cool season, methyl bromide alternatives, disease resistant pumpkin breeding, tomato grafting, cultivation of edamame, and many more interesting topics. It was really great to hear about work other universities are conducting that is similar to, and could influence, our own research.

Of course, the most exciting part of the trip was our visit to Epcot on our free day. How could we go to Orlando and not go to Disney? While on the lookout for Disney stars, we learned about life under the sea with the characters of Finding Nemo, “visited” and learned about many countries (and got to taste lots of yummy food!), were taught the urgent need for recycling from the characters of The Lion King, and had a chance to relive the development of human culture starting with the ancient Egyptians. My favorite part, though, was getting the chance to visit Disney’s greenhouses. We signed up for a behind the scenes tour of the greenhouses and associated labs where we learned about their IPM program, plant tissue culture, and toured through the greenhouses to see their amazing plants. Their plants are produced hydroponically in sterile media, aeroponically where they are suspended and occasionally wetted, and, in some instances, aquaponically where fish and plant culture are combined. Each greenhouse was set for a different climate zone, allowing for the production of a wide range of crops – from coffee and bananas to strawberries and lettuce. In each greenhouse there were interactive exercises – we got to taste a Mickey shaped cucumber, release lady beetles, and try to name various spices in their unprocessed form. All of the produce is used within the park at the finer restaurants.

I found the greenhouse to be fascinating because I am not familiar with hydroponic systems, and have never visited a greenhouse before that was so extensive and used many different methods of cultivation. It was neat to actually be able to see the things I have read and learned about in my coursework at UT. However, Disney claims that this is “the future of agriculture” and “will help make the Earth a healthier place to live.” Unfortunately, hydroponic, and many greenhouse production systems, rely heavily on the production and usage of synthetic chemicals and require excessive amounts of energy to moderate the inside environment. I can only help but wonder how sustainable this is, and fear to think that agriculture around the world should head in this direction.