Farm Rhythms, with a tangent on keeping cool.

Hi, everybody!
I get to write the blog this week, and I thought I’d share some things I’ve been learning in my second season at the Blandford Farm.
Growing seasons have a rhythm to them, and as I continue to work as a grower, I become increasingly aware of those rhythms. Greens, alliums and brassicas are the first transplants to go in the field. Flea beetles are among the first of the pests to appear. (The holes in your Asian greens, arugula and radish greens were the work of flea beetles.) As we harvest greens, scallions and radishes, we are transplanting peppers, tomatoes, summer squash and zucchini. Soon, we will be harvesting their delicious fruit and transplanting fall crops, such as brussels sprouts and root vegetables which will be ready in their due time.
Then there are weekly rhythms. Mondays are for planning and general farm maintenance, Tuesdays and Thursdays are harvest/market preparation days, Wednesdays and Fridays are market days for Mark, and general farm maintenance days for myself and Aaron. So you’d probably never see us moving animals to a different pasture spot on a Tuesday, and we wouldn’t harvest greens on a Friday.
Last year was my first year at Blandford Farm, and I spent that year getting acquainted with all these seasonal and work patterns. This year, I am taking on more responsibility. I have been handed the baton on CSA communications, and I’m also responsible for our direct seeding schedule. (These are seeds that get planted directly in the ground, instead of started in trays and then transplanted. Some items that we seed directly into the soil are: carrots, beets, radishes, peas, beans and cut greens.)
It’s a different perspective. Instead of being told what to do and when to do it, I am in tune with what needs to happen enough that I can arrive to the farm in the mornings and just start doing what needs to be done. I can see a field full of weeds and know which section needs to be weeded first.
It’s a good feeling. Even though I have much more to learn, I feel like I’m growing as a fledgling farmer.
I’ve also been learning good tips to keep cool while working in the fields, as it has been draining-ly hot lately. My #1 hack for keeping cool on hot days is: don’t work on hot days. …At least not in the hottest part of the day. I’ve been coming in to work earlier than usual and leaving earlier than usual to try and escape as much of the heat as I can. It is much more pleasant to work at 7:00am these days than it is to work at 3:00pm.
Tip #2: Wear a bandana around your neck and keep it cold and wet. This can be achieved by periodically drenching it with a hose. It’s amazing how much cooler I feel when the back of my neck is cool.
Tip #3: Wear a hat with a wide brim. Create your own shade!
Tip #4: Stay hydrated. You’ll sweat more and thus stay cooler.
Tip #5: Wear sandals, not shoes. Your feet can feel the breeze, and you can occasionally put your feet under the hose. It’s very refreshing.
Tip #6: This one is mainly for those who sunburn easily. (And as a redhead, I can tell you that I sunburn easily!) It is easier to wear light, long layers than to apply sunscreen constantly throughout the day. I find that I get just as hot in shorts and tank-tops as I do in long pants and a *light* long sleeved shirt. So I opt for the longer option so I can protect myself from constantly getting sunburned. My farmer’s tan cuts off at the wrists!

Blog Photo

I’m the one in the straw hat, following *most* of my own advice for keeping cool!  The rubber boots were a bad idea. (At least as far as heat goes.)

And Now For Something Completely Different

The Blandford Farm CSA season begins this week.  Since all seasons have an “opener”, I thought I might borrow from sports to celebrate ours.

I suppose I should choose baseball metaphors since this is baseball season, but I’ve never been much for the sport.  It’s far too slow for me.  When I lived in Dallas, a friend invited me to a game of the Frisco Roughriders (the farm team for the Texas Rangers).  I was bored to tears, and the beer was awful, too.

I’m a hockey person.  Although the season doesn’t start until the Fall, I can always dream.  Let’s see if I can re-imagine some hockey terms with a CSA meaning.  Following is my attempt:

Blue line – The imaginary line you cross when you come to the farm, ready to pick up your CSA share, and realize you left all your bags in the car (or at home).

(Body) Checking – Physically bumping into another member while picking up your share.  Of course it was unintentional…

Goal – We got all our vegies for the week.  Made it home.  And our family EATS them.  You SCORE!

Goalie – The role your kids or significant other play when you get your vegies home.  “We’re not letting that stuff into our house or our mouths.”  Ptui

High sticking – Don’t carry that crate above your head because you’ll tip and trip and … we warned you.

Icing – You showed up before paying for your CSA share.  Naughty naughty

Penalty Box – What U-picks feel like in the heat of summer, the tangle of vines, and the bite of bugs.

Period – Divisions of the CSA season.  First period:  the vegie selection is light because things are still growing.  Second period:  The summer weeks when you have tomatoes and zucchini coming out of your ears.  Third period:  Ahhh, the root vegies have arrived.

Puck – What your potatoes become if you leave them in the basement too long.

Referee – The role Aaron plays when not out in the field or greenhouse.

Scrum (normally a Rugby term but Hockey players seem to practice it) – We’re all gathered around that one basket trying to guess what’s inside.  We can’t quite figure it out, not sure how many we get, and Aaron is away at the moment.

This cup is for the Blandford Farm team. (Yes, it's the real Stanley Cup.)

This cup is for the Blandford Farm team. (Yes, it’s the real Stanley Cup.)

Stanley Cup – This really should be awarded to Aaron, Liz, Mark, and their team.  Their work, sweat, and persistence gave us healthy vegies throughout the season.  I’ll bet Lord Stanley of Preston was a carnivore.

And finally, a tip of the hat to the late Frank Deford, NPR’s sports commentator.  He gave me the idea that sports can intersect other areas of our lives.  Dunno if he did a commentary on CSAs, though.



About the author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

Farm Day 2017

Do you want to get some farm in your life? There is no better way to support local farms and jump start a summer of healthy eating than by purchasing a CSA share.

CSA shares:
…Give you a chance to see where and how your food is grown. Vegetables are picked up each week right where they are cultivated!
     …Offer the freshest food available. Veggies are harvested the same day you receive them.
     … Provide an opportunity to learn about vegetables that you might not have tried before. Expand your vegetable repertoire with the help of a handy recipe guide created by one of our long-time CSA members.

Whether you are a long-time CSA member or are still considering your first share, you can get some farm in your life by attending “Farm Day:”  a family friendly open house style event at the farm! Meet the goats, sheep, chickens and pigs, say “hi” to your local farmers, check out our plant sale, listen to a story and play some games. There will even be draft horses plowing the field in old-school style! This is a great option for a Memorial Day “stay-cation.”

Farm Day:

May 27, 2017


3143 Milo St NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49534

Food as Medicine

The first Blandford Farm CSA pickup is about a month away.  Yet I’m already plotting the use of my half-share.  You see, this year, I’m focusing on using food as medicine.  But I needed a little push.

I must confess, I haven’t had a primary care physician since my early college years.  I procrastinated as long as I could until my health insurance provider basically said, “ya gotta get one.”  So I did.  And I went through a couple of initial “meet and greet” exams, complete with blood tests.  The results were troubling, but not tragic.

It's a brave new world, Peaches!

It’s a brave new world, Peaches!

When I lived in Dallas, I was afraid I would die while driving on Central Expressway or the Dallas North Tollway.  When I moved to Grand Rapids, that fear faded in my rearview mirror…so to speak.  But I’ve learned my latest risk of mortality comes from the inside.  My blood tests tattled:  I have hyperlipidemia and hypertension.  In layman’s terms:  high cholesterol and high blood pressure, respectively.

I made a face when the nurses and my primary doctor suggested medications.  I preferred to use non-pharmaceutical means of treatment.  Amazingly, they gave me the benefit of the doubt.  Suggested course of action:  more exercise, lose a few pounds, and adjust my diet.  Since I never smoked, that’s one vice I can’t lose.  And I’ve come to enjoy the benefits of Beer City USA.  Surprisingly, my doctor didn’t see that as an issue.  That left exercise and diet.

I now practice yoga or exercise on a dusty Nordic Track in the basement, each day.  And adjusting my diet?  Well, that’s where the CSA comes in.

A story on earlier in the year caught my eye:  Food As Medicine: It’s Not Just A Fringe Idea Anymore.  A couple of the referenced studies (here and here) suggest that one can reverse the effects of high cholesterol by eating more fruits and vegies.  When my doctor quizzed me about my diet, I was already practicing many of the changes she could recommend.  So, she suggested Dr. Andrew Weil’s web site for advice on other nutritional avenues to manage my cholesterol and blood pressure.  A quick search on the site for “diet high cholesterol” produced a list of useful articles.

This nudges me (and my household) toward a more vegetarian diet.  Since I’m the primary cook, this will be a shared experience.  But I don’t mind the change, and my wife is always clamoring for more vegies.  In fact, I ordered a book from Amazon today, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.  I wanted to recreate some dishes served by my friend “BF#”.  And I definitely must make full use of this year’s CSA bounty.

I know I’m not the first person to alter their diet in response to a health issue.  For some, they like how they feel after the changes.  As a data-driven guy, my blood chemistry numbers are the benchmark for success.  And so, I have a date with a blood-sucker in September.  With luck, my primary doctor will continue to give me the benefit of the doubt in October.  I guess that sort of tracks this year’s CSA season, doesn’t it?

Image_20150822_01About the author:  Dave Gillen didn’t want to eat hotdogs for the rest of his life, so he learned to cook.  His mother taught him to boil water, fry an egg, and make oatmeal cookies.  Dave forgot how to make the cookies, barely remembered how to fry eggs, but is spot on at boiling water.  Currently, he divides his days between being wife Lois’ in-house techno geek and personal chef…and walking his greyhounds.

Native Plant Plot

This year, Blandford Farm applied for a micro grant from Slow Food of West Michigan. We proposed to use funding to turn a section of land on the farm into a native plant agricultural ecosystem.  Our goal is relatively simple: remove some of the scrub plants that had taken over the space, and plant native trees, wild flowers and mushrooms in their place.

We have chosen to plant trees that are listed in the Ark of Taste guide:

Michigan Paw Paw

American Chestnut

American Hazelnut

American Persimmon

Interspersed in the tree-scape, we hope to cultivate the Wood Blewit and Bleu Foot mushrooms.  These native mushrooms are related (known as the Clitocybe Cousins) and prefer wooded areas where they can grow undisturbed.  This makes them ideal companion plants for a grove of trees.  We will sow a native wildflower seed mix in the space so that while the trees are growing and there is a lot of available sun, there will be increased habitat and food sources for native pollinators.  Once the trees begin to mature, the wildflowers will be pushed to the edges of the space, as the available sun will decrease.

Part of the intention for this space is to have an educational component to it.  Stay tuned for opportunities to learn about agro-ecosystems, and how you can turn your own backyard into an edible native plant paradise!


Currently, this is what the space looks like:


Why join a CSA?

Many people who read this blog are already CSA members, and we appreciate it! But for those of you who aren’t CSA members, here is a post about why we have a CSA program at Blandford Farm, and some of the reasons a CSA share could be good for you and your family. 

Fresh, nutritious food is the cornerstone to healthy living.  But by the time most produce makes its way to the supermarket, it has been in storage and in transit for weeks or even months, depending on where it was sourced.  In addition to being imported from other states or countries, much of our food is also grown with pesticides and herbicides, which leave residue on the fruit and vegetables that we then consume.

There is an alternative: buying fresh, local fruits and vegetables from farmers who take care to have healthy growing practices.  There is a growing movement of naturally grown “slow” food production, started by people who know that where and how food is grown correlates to the nutritional value and taste of that food.  Blandford Farm is proud to be a part of that movement, offering you a local option for vegetables.

We offer CSA shares as a way to connect you back to the food you eat.  If you become a CSA member, you can pick up vegetables the very same day they are harvested!  We are committed to producing the most nutritious, ecologically friendly vegetables possible, practically in your backyard!

With pigs, goats and chickens for kids to interact with, a nature play nook, and a children’s garden for visitors to explore, picking up your CSA share can be a fun family experience as well as a culinary adventure.  We produce a wide array of vegetables, ranging from familiar favorites such as heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers to leafy greens to less familiar vegetables like kohlrabi, fennel and daikon radishes.

For more information about how a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share can support a local farm, to see a sample share, or to sign up for a CSA through Blandford Farm, check out our website:


We offer a discounted price on CSA shares for Blandford members:

Full shares are $510

Partial shares are $300


For those who are not Blandford members:

Full shares are $540

Partial shares are $315


We offer two pick-up locations.  One is at the Blandford Farm on Tuesdays from 4:00-6:30pm.  There is no additional fee for this pickup location.

The other is at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market on either Wednesdays or Fridays from 8:00am-1:00pm.  There is an additional $25 fee for market pickup.

In the words of the BEEPS…

For those of you who don’t know, BEEPS are Blandford Environmental Education Program Students.  This year, Aaron and I have been part of a collaboration between Blandford Nature Center and Blandford School: the BEEP mentorship program.  This week, the theme was communication, and so the BEEPS decided to write a blog post that I could share! 

Hi.  Our names are James, Other James, Violet and Ava.  We are part of the first-ever Blandford Farm Mentorship Program, or BFMP.

I am Violet and I will tell you about how this mentorship is going for me.  The first day we cleaned the goat pen.  That was the worst day.  But it was still fun because we sang and told jokes.  I love being in the dirt and planting the seeds.

Hi.  My name is James.  And I like turnips.

Hi.  My name is James P. and I am part of the very first mentorship of farming.  I really like farming and it is so fun to do this mentorship. 🙂

Hello, I am Ava.  I am part of the first ever farm mentorship at Blandford.  I did not know that when I came to blandford a lot of things were going to happen.  Number 1.  I did not know that I would have this much homework.  Number 2.  I did not know I would make such great friends, and finally number three.  That I would be able to be in such a great mentorship.  This mentorship has been a once in a lifetime chance.  First of all I get to hang out with the goats so much more then I would have if I was not in this mentorship.  Second, I got free food, spinach, and turnips.  And finally third I got to know the farm a lot better.  Overall I am happy I am in this mentorship.  I would recommend this mentorship to any future BEEPS.