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Those Pesky Weeds: A 2013 Beginning Farmer CRAFT Field Day

By Jenny Meyer, Program Director of Farmer Training Initiative

Program Director of Farmer Training Initiative
Program Director of Farmer Training Initiative

On Tuesday, August 6th the Upper Midwest CRAFT (Collaborative Farmer Alliance for Farmer Training) fulfilled an objective conceived by C.R.A.F.T.’s steering committee last November: offer an extended field day that caters specifically to earnest, established beginning farmers so that the length and detail of the day’s activities draw a high farmer turnout from a broad portion of CRAFT's geographic area.

By featuring trainings from two CRAFT farmers and tours of their operations—one a beginning farmer and the other with decades of experience—attendees were able to see a progression of farm scale and capacity through which the topic of weed management was developed.

The day started at Trogg’s Hollow Farm with a frank conversation about weeds: we’ve all got them! The group immediately aired its frustrations, limitations, stresses and embarrassments about weed problems as all 35 participants introduced themselves and stated what they wanted to take away from the CRAFT field day. Several farmers mentioned that they desired to expand farm production but were not able to do so until they had weeds under control on their farms, and attendees spoke of the strong links between weed management, production levels, profitability—and farmer quality of life!

Chris Prchal lead the first conversation on weed management from the vantage point of a beginning farmer. With four seasons of farming experience, he manages Trogg’s Hollow Farm, a 2.5-acre, 51-member CSA located in Poplar Grove, IL that has a second location in Elgin, IL. Between Chris and his two employees, Sarah and Dan, about 60% of their labor is spent weeding. Chris’ weed management plan consists of three pillars: cultivation, interplanting/biointensive plantings and cover cropping. Chris and his wife Marcy do not plan to scale up the size of their production, so the cultivation tools that Chris discussed and demonstrated reflect a commitment to small-scale agriculture: stirrup hoes, wire hand weeders, wheel hoes, collinear hoes, weed whackers, a ‘garden weasel,’ hand sickles, flame weeders, mowers, and a BCS walk-behind tractor.

After a potluck lunch, the group caravanned over to Angelic Organics Farm. The weed strategy presented by farmer John Peterson intertwines next year’s crop rotation plan into the weeding activities of the current season. For example, this season Angelic Organics farm has a no-weed policy its onion fields, as next season these fields will be planted to hard- (and expensive-) to-weed carrots. On John’s 100+ acre vegetable, over 1700-member CSA farm, “weed control is all about timeliness,” and this message made an impression on the group, as one farmer remarked that this “time warp” concept in adhering to a weed control strategy is what he would incorporate into his own farm’s operations as a result of attending this CRAFT field day.

In addition to discussing his weeding strategies, John also facilitated a few machinery demos for the group. In order to spend less time hand-weeding, John emphasizes mechanical cultivation whenever possible, and has invested in a RTK-enhanced GPS system on his John Deere 6430 to ensure vegetable rows are straight and easily machine-cultivated. The implements seen in action were a power wiggle hoe, a wheel-track cultivator, cultivating implements used with an Allis Chalmers G, jiffy hitches—and he wrapped up the demos with a tour and explanation of the rest of the farm’s cultivating equipment.

Thank you to Chris and Mary Prchal and John Peterson for hosting this field day! This event was one of many field days organized by the Upper-Midwest CRAFT Network. If you would like to attend future CRAFT field days and receive weekly updates about farming in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, join CRAFT! For CRAFT members that would like to have an active role in designing Field Days offered by CRAFT, please email the Angelic Organics Learning Center Farmer Training Program Assistant, to find out how you can get involved.