For our sixth CRAFT tour this season, we were hosted by Carl Evans, Julie Mansfield, and their farm crew at Mountain Harvest Organics in beautiful Spring Creek. Carl and Julie treated us to a non-stop farm tour with a uniquely insightful look into sustainable forestry and timber framing that even a sudden deluge could not deter.
We can’t thank the Mountain Harvest Organics group enough for sharing their farm, expertise, and awesome pizza oven with us!
The tour started out with a brief introduction Mountain Harvest Organic farm, tag-teamed between Julie and Carl. They came to the land in 1998 still working full time computer jobs. After spending time cleaning and reclaiming the land they were able to switch to farming full time in 2000, and started a CSA. In 2001, they expanded to tailgate markets. Now they are able to grow 5 acres of produce, fruits, and flowers, raise pastured pigs and poultry, and manage 80 acres of timber. They market their farm products at two tailgate markets and to a 68 family CSA with two share sizes.
Then, we stopped by 3 of the farm’s 6 greenhouses. In the first, a Jaderloon greenhouse, they do their primary propagation for transplants. They heat this greenhouse with propane and a conventional Modine greenhouse heater but their other greenhouses are heated using a hydronic wood boiler furnace using firewood harvested from the property which allows them start earlier in the season, and grow until December.
During the summer the greenhouses function as high tunnels, but with changing climate conditions they are looking into ideas for growing with greenhouses in extreme heat since the summers have been hotter the past few years. The tomatoes in the third greenhouse were heavy with fruit, and they have already harvested 3,000 lbs of slicers so far.
In the large production field, they have fenced in 4 acres. To cultivate they start with the turning plow, then disc and add any amendments, followed by rotovating to raise and make beds. For planting, they employ a Lannen Plantek carousel transplanter and can plant a 300 ft. bed in 15 minutes! For direct seeding they use an Earthway push seeder and Jang seeder.
Carl recommends irrigating with aluminum pipe if you are able to find enough of it. It doesn’t need to be replaced, and can be found on old tobacco farms. The pipe is set up on 40×60 ft. grid for sprinklers, and the handy swivel valves off the mainline make rotating watering a cinch.
After a quick stop by the pig paddock, we walked into the woods to hear more about the sustainable forestry plan for the farm. Carl and Julie are trying to take advantage of the abundance they possess in their 80 acres of forested land to build a timber frame rental cabin and pavilion for farm outings. Carl hopes to pair a side business in building custom timber frames for buyers during the winter season with the farming enterprises.
When it comes to sustainable forestry careful planning is crucial. The first step to sustainable forestry is creating a forestry plan for managing your woodlot. You are required to have a forestry plan if you plan to apply for land use taxation. Carl recommends finding a forester that will let you go along with them as they survey the forest. They can help you see the trees in the midst of the forest, so to speak, and explain which trees to cut and when, which ones to leave and how they are useful in your plan for harvesting as a bumper tree or maintaining the health of the forest but serving as a seed stock. Selective cutting is an art, and it’s a different mindset trying to see what a tree and the overall forest could be in 20 or 40 years.
When it comes time to actually harvest the trees they have selected, it’s a three step process:
- Felling – cutting a tree in a way that makes it easy to remove
- Limbing – removing the branches; and
- Bucking – cutting the tree into appropriate lengths to be removed. Carl and Julie use the Swedish felling technique which involves making a notch in the tree trunk, plunging the saw in and boring out the middle leaving the back intact. Then you insert plastic wedges in the cut side, and cut the back tab out for a more controlled fall.
Carl advises that you also think about how invested you want to be in terms of time and money. Carl and Julie are trying to manage as much of the process on their own as possible, and have invested in several key pieces of equipment. A Farmi attachment turned their Kubota L4200 tractor into a skidder for around $3,500 so they can move the bucked trees to a staging area to be loaded on a trailer and hauled out. A snatchblock enables them to pull a tree that is out of line with the tractor without pulling the tractor over. And, a portable bandsaw sawmill allows them to mill all of the beams and boards on their land. Since timbering is one of the top three most dangerous jobs, having proper safety equipment like chainsaw chaps, and a hard hat are also wise investments.
Timber framing, or as Julie calls it Slow Building, is a type of building that dates back to the 1500s, and resurfaced in the U.S. in the 1970s. It is known for precision joinery, where the joints are held together with wooden pegs – no nails allowed! Carl started his training a week long workshop with Scott Stevens of Grand Oaks Timber Framing. Using a poplar saw horse Carl demonstrated the basic techniques of timber frame building. The basic joint is a mortise and tenon, where a tapered end (the tenon) is cut in the end of a beam to fit inside a corresponding hole on another beam (the mortise). The dimensions are careful planned before the first cut is made and you measure to the 32nds of an inch. Then, holes are made and wooden pegs shaped to be inserted to lock the joint in place. Carl suggests that if you have any interest in timber framing investing the time and expense in an intensive workshop is a great idea.
Despite a heavy rain towards the end of the tour the pizza oven stayed lit and we feasted on homemade pizzas, and other delicious dishes. We cannot thank Carl and Julie enough for the great tour they put on and for sharing their wealth of farm knowledge and inspiration.
Our next CRAFT tour will be Sunday September 9th at A Way of Life Farm led Sarah Jane and Jamie Davis. The tour topic will be “Alternative Approaches to Soil Fertility.” Join us!!
CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers and their interns networking and learning opportunities. Membership is rolling, so join anytime! For more information or to join, click here. Or contact Cameron Farlow, OGS Farmer Programs Coordinator at 828.338.9465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agatha Hannah holds a degree in Environmental Studies — Sustainable Agriculture from Warren Wilson College. She has more than twenty years of experience working with non-profits focused on farmer education and sustainable and regenerative agriculture at the local and national levels. As a farmer, mother, and community activist with an off-grid homestead in Floyd, Virginia, Agatha has a deep commitment to cultivating a vibrant agriculture system based on thriving family farms.