Tag Archives: farming

We are hiring a full-time farm intern

General description: Little Hat Creek Farm is a 5-acre diversified vegetable farm and wood-fired bakery located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. 2017 will be our fourth season of selling at three farmer’s markets and through a 20-25 member CSA. We grow about 50 different annual vegetables on approximately one acre, we keep chickens for eggs. and we grow a few perennial fruit crops. In the spring, we also sell vegetable, herb, and flower seedlings for gardeners. Our growing practices, which include cover cropping, crop rotation, plastic mulch, and hay mulch, are geared towards promoting soil biodiversity and maximum nutrition. We avoid the use of chemicals. Our pastries and slow-fermented sourdough breads are mixed by hand and baked in a wood-fired oven. We strive to include as much local flour and produce from our farm in our baked goods as possible. While our wholesale business continues to grow, we are primarily focused on direct-marketing our produce and baked goods to our customers. In addition to ourselves, you can expect to work with another full-time bakery worker, and additional part-time workers from time to time. This is a full-time hourly paid farm position.

Skills desired: You are a good fit to for this position if you love making and sharing good food and if our farm+bakery business model excites you. You get pleasure in seeing (and eating) the fruits of your hard work. You want to learn more about what it takes to run a successful farm business, and how to grow nutritious and delicious food. You are a self-starter who can anticipate tasks and you work well independently and with others. You take pride in performing routine tasks quickly and efficiently while attending to detail, and you are able to problem-solve on the fly. You are punctual, able to safely lift fifty pounds, and able to meet deadlines. You are comfortable driving a van on mountain roads and have a clean driving record.

Duties: You will be responsible for routine farm tasks like seeding, watering, planting, harvesting, sorting, weeding, and mulching. You will be expected to help keep the greenhouse and packing station tidy, including washing flats and harvest containers. You will assist us at our busy farmer’s market stand, help us pack our CSA, and help manage our laying hens. Additional duties may include post-harvest processing like pickling, jamming and drying; egg-washing; deliveries; helping with production, packaging tasks, or cleaning tasks in the bakery.

Duration and Hours: You will work 30-40 hours per week starting in May or June 2017. The start date is negotiable, but we require you to commit to stay at least through the end of August. Beyond that, we are open to the possibility of extending the position through the end of October. Most weeks, your hours will not exceed 50 hours per week. We strive to keep your hours regular and predictable, with early morning start times required on market days.

Meals: You will have free access to unsold farm produce, eggs, bread and pastries. Should you live on the farm, you will have access to a shared kitchen and bathroom.

Compensation: $8/hr, plus trading privileges at market and free access to unsold farm produce, eggs, and baked goods. A room in our house is available for $150/mo rent (including internet and utilities), with access to a shared bathroom and kitchen. You will receive training in marketable skills, including how to grow nutritious and delicious vegetables, and how to start and run your own business. You will also have access to the logic behind everything we do. We make a point of sharing the details of our farming, baking, and business practices, so we encourage you to ask about all aspects of starting and running a business like ours. And because there are many ways of doing things, we also take you on visits to 2-3 other farms and bakeries over the course of the season.

To apply, please send a resume, cover letter, and three current references to littlehatcreek@gmail.com.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Your farmer and baker,

Ben & Heather


Our 2015-2016 crew

Giving thanks: seven posts in seven days

Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. For us, it marks the end of our markets and celebrates the successful completion of another growing season. It is an occasion to gather with family and friends for no other reason than to be together and to feast. It is an excuse to make—and eat—ridiculous amounts of food. And it is an annual reminder to feel grateful.

We couldn’t feel more grateful this year. We have had an incredible season filled with wonderful people, great markets and unforgetable milestones. The experience of starting a second season and having customers remember us, and seek us out at market, was unexpectedly gratifying. The oven that we built earlier this year allowed us to bake much more bread, and even dabble in pastry. Our CSA expanded and included donors that allowed us to subsidize shares for four families through our Pay-What-You-Can program. El Nino provided autumn warmth that made November markets positively pleasant.

But nothing beats getting to know our community more deeply, and knowing that we are serving it in ways that we believe in. We are so grateful to you, the people that support us, and our farm. You are a big part of what makes what we do possible.

The other part is the work our soil does for us. We had the pleasure this year of seeing our soil respond to our care. An eye-popping root crop followed a buckwheat cover crop, and the soil is looser now than ever. The conversion of seed into vegetable never ceases to be a source of awe. May we never loose sight of the soil, and sun, and rain, that make our life possible.

Over the next week, you can read some more specific reasons why we are feeling grateful this year. This is the first of seven posts in seven days. Then we will take a break for the holidays, and be back at it in January. Happy reading!

Making it to midsummer


Yesterday was Father’s Day, and it was also the summer solstice. And around here, you sure can tell. Many summer plants flowered this week; the day lillies lining our roads, the mimosas at the swimming hole, the rogue sunflowers in the middle of our fields, and the black-eyed susans, chickories and milkweeds in forgotten pastures are all capitalizing on the nearly 16 hours of sunlight. The berries are ripening; I harvested the first blueberries and raspberries this week. And we always harvest garlic near the solstice, because the bulb size peaks with the longer days.

We can’t help but feel some kind of relief on the occasion: we made it to midsummer! It feels like we’ve reached the top of the pass, and can now coast downhill. From now on, the days will grow steadily shorter, the weeds will grow steadily slower, and before we know it, the season will wrap itself up. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of work to do–we haven’t even started to harvest tomatoes yet!–but it is somehow reassuring to know that we’re over the hump.

Glyphosate + Wheat = Celiac disease?

Several of our customers recently brought our attention to somewhat alarming news in the blogosphere that glyphosate (commonly known as Roundup) is sprayed on 97% of U.S. wheat crops right before harvest. To make matters worse, it seems like these glyphosate residues on wheat are what is causing celiac disease in so many Americans.

If this were true, it would be a good reason for Americans to insist on organic wheat, a notion that we whole-heartedly support.  And some parts of this story do in fact ring true. One trip to the grocery store is all you need to realize that gluten intolerance seems to be much more common than it was even five years ago. It seems logical that we should be able to trace this strong increase back to some change in our environment. It is also not hard to believe that consuming the herbicide glyphosate is bad for you, or that somehow the combination of glyphosate and wheat, which is the main source of gluten in our diet, could somehow produce a toxic synergy that results in celiac disease.

But as much as one might want to believe that there is such an easy explanation for why so many Americans are allergic to gluten, other parts of the story sounded a little too suspect. Glyphosate is one of the most widely available herbicides on the market. You don’t need a license to buy it at any home improvement store, so your neighbors could be spraying it in their yards and gardens. Commercially, it is approved for use on most crops that we eat.  The two crops that we Americans eat a lot of, corn and soy, have even been genetically-engineered to be “Roundup-Ready”–ready, that is, to be sprayed with glyphosate and not killed.  Wheat is not necessarily the number one source of glyphosate in our environment.

So we wanted to get to the bottom this story.  It seems like the original source is a paper published in the December 2013 issue of Interdisciplinary Toxicology entitled “Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance,” written by Anthony Samsel, an independant consultant, and Stephanie Seneff, a computer scientist. It struck us as strange that such a paper would be written by someone other than an epidemiologist, medical professional or public health official. But, no matter, the authors could have analyzed someone else’s data in a creative way, so we had a look inside.

The main thing we noticed is that most of the evidence that Samsel and Seneff gather to support their conclusion that glyphosate causes celiac disease is conjectural. For example, glyphosate has been shown to disrupt the mucosal lining of fish intestines, which is “highly reminiscent” of human celiac disease (p. 160). In another example, they argue that since glyphosate chelates iron in plants, that it is “conceivable” that it does the same in humans, implying that the chelation would lead to anemia, which happens to be one of many symptoms of celiac disease (p. 166).  Logical, perhaps, but certainly not conclusive. In good science, these sorts of compelling correlations are what motivate researchers to formulate hypotheses about the action of glyphosate that are then specifically tested in controlled experiments. But bypassing the experiment and jumping from correlation to conclusion, as the authors do here, is more the stuff of pseudo-science.

Samsel and Saneff go on to correlate eleven other actions that glyphosate is known for in plants and non-human animals with symptoms of celiac disease. However compelling the correlations may be, they are still correlations. And mistaking correlation for causation is one of easiest logical fallacies to fall victim to. The widely reproduced first figure of this paper (above) shows celiac incidence rising in step with glyphosate application on wheat. The implication is that glyphosate on wheat is the cause of the increase in celiac disease. But it is equally possible to imagine this graph with any number of phrases substituted for “glyphosate on wheat.” Try, for example: “awareness of celiac disease symptoms among doctors,” “proportion of corn and soy in the American diet,” “per capita incidence of Type II diabetes,” or “proportion of Americans owning an iPod.” They could all be correlated with the increase in celiac disease, which is to say that there may–or may not–be a causal link between the two.

So while we aren’t convinced that glyphosate causes celiac disease, we still don’t want to eat it. We are still concerned about the statistic that 97% of spring wheat (the main bread wheat) that is grown in the US is sprayed with glyphosate right before harvest. This would mean that most conventional flour would be laced with glyphosate residues. We try to buy wheat that is both local and organic, but our reality is that we often have to choose between local, but conventionally-grown wheat and distantly-grown organic wheat.  We believe in supporting our local economy, but this kind of information could change our minds.

When you first look at this figure and its accompanying table, you might come to the same conclusion that Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist arrived at in her blog post: that 97% of spring wheat is sprayed with glyphosate prior to harvest.  But if you look closer, it actually says that herbicides (and not just glyphosate) were used on 97% of the acres on which spring wheat is grown at some point in the crop year. This does not mean that the herbicide was used on the wheat crop itself, it could have been used to clear the fields before the wheat was planted. In any case, according to the above table, glyphosate is not even one of the top three herbicides used by spring wheat farmers, so it’s unclear why it should get all the blame. So where did Samsel and Seneff get the idea that farmers are spraying glyphosate before they harvest wheat?  This Monsanto publication, which discusses glyphosate use in Europe (not the U.S.). It seems likely that this non-peer-reviewed publication could possibly be biased to make it look like glyphosate is more widely used than it is so that more farmers buy it.

Let’s be clear: we are certainly not fans of glyphosate here at Little Hat Creek Farm. We avoid using any chemicals on our crops, and we buy as much organic flour as we can.  But we found the Samsel and Seneff article (and the accompanying news items) to be more provocative and misleading than grounded in good science. Hopefully, their article will be the inspiration for clinical trials that could establish a causal link between glyphosate use and celiac disease. But in the meantime, we do not think there is as much cause for alarm as it may at first seem.

Bittman says: “Butter is Back”

Mark Bittman changed my life a few years ago with his book, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The book not only expanded my horizons in the kitchen with its simple recipes, but also served as a sort of desk reference for vegetables, fruits, and grains I had heard of but had never tried.  At the time of the book’s publication, Bittman was a food writer for the New York Times, and I started paying attention to his column.  I liked his recipes for their attitude of, “if you don’t have this ingredient, or the time, or the inclination, just make this substitution/change to the recipe.”  It’s an attitude that led me towards more flexible, adventurous cooking.

More recently, Bittman has transitioned his Times column away from recipes and towards food politics.  He is currently (in my opinion) one of the most articulate advocates for sustainability, real food, and sensible policy.  I was delighted to read his March 25th column, “Butter is Back”.

When I read it a couple of days ago, it was at the top of the “most emailed” list of articles on the Times website.  Perhaps that’s because he says it’s ok to eat butter.

But I enjoyed his essay because of the way he spells out the differences between “real food” and what Michael Pollan famously termed “edible food-like substances.” From the article:

 You might consider a dried apricot (one ingredient) versus a Fruit Roll-Up (13 ingredients, numbers 2, 3 and 4 of which are sugar or forms of added sugar). Or you might reflect that real yogurt has two or three ingredients (milk plus bacteria, with some jam or honey if you like) and that the number in Breyers YoCrunch Cookies n’ Cream Yogurt is unknowable (there are a few instances of “and/or”) but certainly at least 18.

The number one reason that I like being a farmer is that I like food.  I like being around large quantities of fresh food.  When I started working on farms five years ago, it was that aspect of the lifestyle that got me thinking, “Man, I could get used to this!” Added bonuses to farmwork are that I get to work outside, work hard, sleep well, and see a physical product of my labor.  As a beginning farmer, it makes me glad to read an essay like Bittman’s and feel like the pendulum is swinging back to the side that I’m working on.

Happy eating, everyone!  See you at the first Charlottesville market of the season next Saturday!    –Ben