Chris Blanchard provides consulting and education for farming, food, and business through Purple Pitchfork. As the owner and operator of Rock Spring Farm since 1999, Chris raised twenty acres of vegetables, herbs, and greenhouse crops, marketed through a 200-member year-round CSA, food stores, and farmers markets. Prior to 1999, Chris managed student farms, worked as an intern, packing house manager, plant breeding assistant, and farm manager, and provided consulting for a major organic processor, in California, Wisconsin, Maine, and Washington state. His workshops, writing, and consulting throughout the country about farm business concepts, food safety, organic vegetable production, and scaling-up have gained a reputation for fresh approaches, down-to-earth information, and honesty.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve always been operating
I spent 25 years farming. Eventually ended up on my own place in Decora Iowa
20 acres of vegetables, year round production in our high tunnels, polyethanola
perennial herbs and storage crops that we were selling primarily in Minneapolis as well as through a CSA. I decided to close things down ended up ramping that up, launched the Farmer-to Farmer Podcast just about a year ago. That’s been a whole lot of fun!
Wow! So you just started out as a farmer?
So I got started in farming. I actually grew up in the city. I grew up in Seattle. After high school went to college, dropped out of school
Was a ski bum in Aspen for about a year and a half., finagled my way into this liberal arts school on cali Nevada line. It’s called Diets springs.
located on a working beef and alfalfa ranch, all the students work on the ranch as part of the education program. I thought I was gonna go be a cowboy, but the job they stuck me with was in the garden. It turned out to be a really good thing. I learned 2 things, one, I was afraid of cows and 2. I loved growing vegetables!
a friend who died in high school and it through me for a loop and I didn’t really know what to do with that. Oh, people die, not everything lasts for ever.
In the garden, your stuck in that circle of life all the time, stuffs living, stuff’s dying all the time, your killing things, your putting things on the compost pile. Everything clicked for me
these are the answers that I have been traveling
in the garden, we we’re raising vegetables for the community
all the vegetables during the growing season we’re coming from, they called it the garden, but really if you’re growing for 50 people that’s a small farm. We were growing on 2 acres of vegetables .
got my start working on other farmers.
decided that’s what I was gonna
started working for others farmers.
Fairview Garden Farms, located inside the suburbs of Santa Barbara. Literally surrounded by houses, you can smell the McD’s from the fields.
2 months doing Farmer’s Markets, that really cemented it for me
Finish horticulture degree in Wisconsin, for the last 2 years of my undergrad. Worked for more farmers out here.
gradually making way
save enough money to get started on my own place.
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
I hated doing yard work.
Sometimes I end up back there, in Feb or March and I’m always amazed at how green it is.
now I’m in the upper midwest,
so March everything is gray,
and there’s green things everywhere
no understanding or appreciation
I hated any kind of yard work that was not my thing. The piece that was missing was that connection with the food. We didn’t have vegetable gardens. We had lawns, flowers and landscape ornamentals
i remember having a garden when we were 4 years old. Thats about the extent of the details
My first ex[eeriness was getting thrown into the meat
You can go to school and learn how to be a cowboy at the same time for free!
I t was actually founded in 1917 by a hydro electric engineer. We like to say
2 greats social experiments started in 1917 and one of them is still around.
Maybe listeners will want to check that out and want to go there.
What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?
Mostly for me, it’s doing as little harm as you can do. Funny thing about gardening and in fact farming the way it’s practiced. Annual production is a disruptive process. It’s inherently unsustainable to be doing annual cropping, trying to keep the right things alive and the right things dead so the right things can flourish,
You want to do that with as little harm as you possibly can to yourself, to the rest of the environment, not putting on excessive soluble fertilizers that end up leaching into the soil or not putting on toxic herbicides and
you mean bey keeping the right things alive and the
you mean keep the weeds dead?
certain bugs dead, certain bugs alive
part is organic farming, even though there are materials that are technically organic. Doesn’t mean they are the right things to be using. There are some go
rotenone, in 1990s allowed on most organic farms, currently not allowed,
USDA doesn’t allow Rotenone, because it’s a horrible fish poison. It’ really effective at knocking down cucumber bette.es
also knocks down everything else in the field, doesn’t want a sterile field
at the same time we need to control that because we have essentially already disrupted the cycle. We’ve already made a gash in nature’s skin, we want to produce things
we have a responsibility to manage that disruption. This is something I talk about with my farm clients, management is everything It’s all about deciding what the outcome is
holistic approach as possible. It’s not I want to have broccoli. It’s I want to have broccoli full of nutrients,
does the least amount of harm to the environment that’s being grown
look a the resources and activities that you’ve got available then you have to use this resources and conduct that
move towards that to find objective. All of those come in this context of we’ve decided to to take an active role
we’re here. We’re either gonna be in control it is or
Do you want to tell listeners about the consulting work that you do?
The work I do, I slid into this.
Most of my work with growers. It’s primarily vegetable farmers, some work with meat producers, mostly vegetable farms. Working o the business side of things.
employee management, financial management
thinking about your farm like a business. Most people get into farming for lifestyle problems, quality of life.
answered all my questions
the problem with getting ‘ that
doesn’t do you very good for keeping you in business.
I also do a lot of work twit post harvest handling
what happens when you harvest , keep it as fresh as possible for a s long as possible
minimize the handling
food safety side of things, how do you keep food from getting contaminated and minimize the spread of contaminations
always geeking out on when you have a
listeria outbreaks the cantaloupes Im on that like a hawk.
really as a gardener
wash your hands before you handle your produce
basic food safety in the kitchen. Most food safely issues and food borne illnesses come from contamination in the kitchen.
rinsing your chicken or cutting your chicken with a knife, and using that knife or that sink to cut or wash vegetables, then you have the op to
really as a gardener not a whole lot to be concerned about. If theres feces on your p[produce don’t pick it. If there’s bird poop on the broccoli you probably don’t want to eat that broccoli, just don’t take the chance?
What about if you’re gonna be selling stuff at the
The food safety
produce rule for over $25k worth of produce there’s a chance your’ gonna be subject to the produce rule. If you’re interested I encourage you to check out purple pitchfork.com.
and how those are gonna work.
There is a law in this country that you can’t sell adulterated produce.
produce that has microbiological contamination, so if it has organisms that could make you sick.
you have to take appropriate steps to keep that safe.
if you’re selling to restaurants, or at a farmers market, and your a small scale grower
pay attention to those common sense things around keeping your food safe. The most common sense thing is, wash your hands before you handle the produce
wash your hands before
Stuff like don’t pee in the garden.
manage your manure
putting it on the garden, make sure you’re not putting it right onto crops you’re going to be harvesting soon and preferable not on growing crops at all.
put it on ground where you don’t currently have vegetables,
good amount of time, 90-100 days
between you apply the manure and you’re harvesting vegetables.
most stuff is just common sense.
Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?
I’ve always been an environmentalist. I was raised in a reasonably ecological house, my parents weren’t hippies, but i think my dad wanted to be one.
were managed organically
rest of the farm, was very environmental conscious operation. The vegetable program was all organic from the start.
never learned how to farm with chemicals
I did work for the University of Wisconsin.
heavy chemical operation, i’s kind of funny they sent me out to spray with round up one time.
go spray these weeds with roundup
and nothing happened
I thought that herbicides were this big bad thing.
they should have been curling up and dying.
I never approached It was always the deflate. I have to give credit to my mentors, Dave and Jane Seidel farm managers at Dietz College very heavily invested in the organic idea. So it just really never occurred to me it was an option to do it any other way.
Nice that’s the way we need to get everybody.d
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
This is the first year in 20 years that I didn’t grow anything. We moved
I did buy some
in Decora Iowa, didn’t have time to et a garden started. I did buy some plants, in some herb planters here.
I kept them alive for like a month in some 3 inch pots, we moved into the house in like a 3 week period.
the squirrels and rabbits are insane! Maybe you have some suggestions for that?
the herb plants alive and on top of the fence.
I’d say that was a success. If you’re moving and can manage to grow anything I’m pretty excited about that.
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
Next year I’m really excited about gardening. Framing and Gardening have a lot in common. I don’t know how to grow just a few of anything.
If you plant tomatoes, you plant 100 tomato plants.
I have 2 tomato plants, I’m gonna make this grow.
Im hoping it leaves some room for experimentation and just some fun. When your faming right? Your ass is on the line
you make a decision about planting something it’s got to work.
room for failure is gonna be kind of neat.
I’m kind of curious about how to grow 100 tomatoes plants? How to go from gardening to farming? Let me tell you a little bit about our situation. We’ve always had a water shortage.
What should we start to think about if we were gonna produce stuff for market?
If you want to produce to make
make sure you have the resources
Plants are made of soil, water, air and sunshine. Of those things, the sunshine and the air, we get as much of those as they need, but we have to make sure they have enough nutrients in the soil and that you have enough water.
One of the things that I see with beginner farmers. they don’t get enough water on their crops
This whole idea of an inch a week.
water is the cheapest fertilizer you can get.
growers who have very carefully managed their water, have triple your yields though irrigation management
when you triple your yields.
if your gardening, I don’t think anyone wants to do anything inefficiently
picking beans is part of the outcome
time you spend outdoors
that picking the beans time becomes an expense
triple the yields, you’re grabbing 3 times as many beans with every handful
every time you’re
your moving down the row
you have to walk less far to get each bucket of beans
efficiency goes way up in terms of harvest.
If you have that deep well you probably have the capacity to
tools to do the weed control
things get harder as you go through the season
pretty easy to put seeds in the ground, pretty easy to put transplants in the ground
keeping weeds under control
nothing less fun of picking a 100 foot row of anything out of the weeds. You want to make sure you have the tools that are appropriate to the scale that your’e operating at.
If you have a 400 square foot garden you can probably get by with a a garden hoe that’s sufficient
1/2 acre 20000 square feet trying to do that with a standard garden hoe, is not gonna work
If you come home from a job.
making sure yo’ve invested in the tools to get that job done right
people who are self-identified and are listening to the organic garden podcast.
relatively advanced in your growing
That whole concept to f succession planting growing becomes really important int he market place.
Everything comes in by august and then they’re one by labor day
trick for being a professional grower
every two weeks so you have the first crop of beans, second crop of beans
all coming in in succession planting.
So I have 2 questions.
1. What are the important tools that you need?
experience that harvest over a much longer period of time
At a half acre I’d want to have a 1/2 acre a roto tiller- a good rototiller
takes a long time to till up a 1/2 acre of ground
if I was
BCS walking tiller … (BCS sponsors my podcast, but I’ve also used them since 1991
2 wheeled tractor but it’s built like a farm implement. At a 1/2 acre your crossing into farmland.
Want to make sure that I had a good selection of hoes
A colonial hoe for every person working on the farm.
What’s a colonial hoe?
This is the coolest weeding tool ever
thin bladed 8”wide, and one inch thick.
keep it razor sharp
walk down the field with it like a broom
got to do it the weeds within a few days of when they germinate before they put on their true leaves
good shuffle hoe
line of tools that Peaceful Valley Farm supply
Real is a swiss company
well built tools, sturdy
oscillating blade, goes click click click.
ground that’s a little bit harder
1/2 acre tools
Good bed rake,
30” beds system
rakes would be
You can’t spend all day making beds
the other tool
This is a JM Fortier standard.
The broad fork is a 30” wide digging fork
6 tines across
those tines are each 12-15” long
do deep tillage
helps roots grow downward
rather then growing out to the side.
barebones set up
that’s what I’d
Up to about 2 acres,
you can turn it around in a small amount of space
Spend the money on the 2 wheeled walking tractor
It;’s really hard to get good utilization on your land.
You can turn in a small space
It’s really versatile
What yo get for the money you spend is pretty dramatic
buy tools a
tines don’t go tumble forward
they rotate farther
gentler job of stirring the
You can get those tools for
Thinking about it’s not just about being able to sit down and ride on the tractor
how much is the whole
what’s the next step
What am I gonna want two years…
Short season climates that can be
look at things growing
We have 20 acres but most of it is just trees. Right now it’s just small… WE had water shortage problems last year, we had a really hot season. It seems like a lot of our things you put it in the ground
In short season climates you look at things. What kind of things can I reliable do? Instead of say
Im gonna do salad greens
I can do a lettuce transplant
I can put that in the field by June first…
Salad mix, harvest stage 21-24 days
focusing on those things where you can really turn over crops quickly. and things that aren’t that frost tender…
frost free dates, are relatively the same over a huge swath of the country. I farmed out in Maine
we had the same frost that we had there that we have here.
May 15th – Sept 15/23rd
You plant tomatoes here on May 15th and you’re gonna have tomatoes by August.
coast of Maine, and your still gonna be lucky to harvest by the time the frost comes around in late sept
very different in number of degree days and how much heat your getting to grow that plant.
plants the biology is driven by the heat.That’s how fast the chemical reactions that grow the
become a rutabaga farmer. I like rutabagas and raddichio
better that rutabaga
I was listning to your interview with the guy from the Brooklyn grange today because you were talking about where’s your production money coming from. By the first week
If your growing a crop Lettuce
spinach on march 15th
Spinach and letuce
last year b the end of February you could work the soil
that’s where that succession comes in.
Another crop on ____ Another crop on apritl 1st. Another crop on apritl 15th.
Keep planting with those shorter season crops.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
This is gonna found for anyone who’s listened to my show or been to any of my workshops. But my least favorite activity is planning
I get stuck down in the weeds,
you don’t things without planning
that’s not the part that I enjoy. I much prefer being out there doing the
Do yu have any basic steps people could follow?
Working backwards, how much do you want to harvest, how much do you need to plant to be able to harvest that? When do you need to be able to plant it?
If you are gonna transplant? how many transplants
looking out and saying
what do I want to end up with.
what are the resources to get there to get to my goal and then making sure that you have those resources on hand, and that you have the time and the appropraite number of hands as you get that done.
I did just interview Richard Wiswall and he was one of the first ones to say that to me in that way exactly, or IDK it sunk in. I am
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden? What do you love to get out there and do?
Napping in the garden, laying down on the soil,
feeling the mycelial creep coming up around you…
going down in ,
Love that I think that’s like the best thing in the world.
There’s so much people miss out of… I was robbed of..
Put it right in my mouth. You’re right there.
This is the fundamental act of creationYou’re taking form what what grown on the earth, in the earth and you are what you are putting on the
making it part of you. it’s so raw! I love all of the sensations that go around that.
same sunshine that is beating down on your shoulders, beating down on that plant and causing everything to happen. You’re just so right there!
That was beautiful. Love that! Totally!
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
Give the plants what they need, plants are made of soil, and the sunshine and water that they need,
if you’re gonna grow tomatoes
keep the weeds out of the way
make sure that you have the nutrients in the soil
look out in nature
not every plant grows everywhere
There’s a thing your plants really wants that maybe your lawn doesn’t need to thrive.
has the nutrients that you need
cool thing about gardening want to make sure that it has enough
choose from that cornucopia
how do we know what the plant wants? They
constantly discovering new things that we didn’t know existed in the universe,
what those plants need
taking your soil tests make sure that your
making sure they have enough water.
you’ve gotta put the water on there.
if you want to maximize your production
Dry Farming Tomatoes
dry farming tomatoes can make for some amazing tasting tomatoes.
take a tomatoes
go out with a post hole digger,e dig down in 18 inches deep, so just the top so just the growing tip was out, then they wouldn’t water the tomato. The tomatoes that grew on there were
really made for great tasting tomatoes but that
doesn’t work with lettuce
If in California
doesn’t rain and then you get a 2” rainfall all your tomatoes are gonna just crack. I’ve seen acres and acres
that’s just a waste
Not so much in the garden because you can eat them but you can’t sell cracked tomatoes.
I think i did hear someone talk about it.
I wouldn’t do that with lettuce. I’d keep watering that lettuce right up until the day I was gonna harvest it.
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
We’re kind of funny in my family.
Do you want to tell listeners what Radicchio is if they don’t know?
raddichio is this gorgeous red ball wrapped into one. It’s this
bitterness that’s different
I get frustrated with bitter
it happens in a different place in your tongue
mistake it for a red cabbage
red cabbage is really purple where as radicchio is really red.
comes in a variety of different forms
softball sized shaped head
works best in the fall
particularly in Italy
chop it into one inch squares
then put it in a bowl, add a bunch of olive oil, a little bit of balsamic vinegar salt it generously
let it sit for about an hour,
vinegar, other flavors
It’s just the most fantastic salad
love this salad at Thanksgiving
stores really well
in the cooler,
harvest it in mid sept
and still put it on your thanksgiving plane
Winter radishes, water melon radishes
beauty heart radishes
they’re bright pink on the outside and on the inside.
on the 43rd latitude
all of the places we plant these radishes at like the end of July. and we let them grow up.
baseball soft ball sized thing, thinking like a turnip and its’ got this bright pink interior. It’s got the most … taste… they’re slightly bitter in the way radishes are biter
inside is sweet, it’s a really sweet and crunchy vegetable! I like to take those and grate them or if you have a mandolin with a mandolin
turn it into a juliene
then toss that.
sesame oil and some white wine
Umeboshi plum vinegar (not too much of that just a little cause that’s a flavoring thing. )
maybe a bit of sugar
Toss that together, let it sit overnight is best and throw it in a colander
let it drain out,
Make up a huge batch of that.
store it in a fridge
late June/early July that would give
fun things you can do
with a mandolin
pull it out and refuse to put it away and use
take those root crops and slice them really thin
1/16th of an
almost every day with my lunch or my dinner.
This is something I am learning with my podcast. You say plant it as a fall crop. You put it in the July?
We would plant to have it in
That would give us
There’s a lot of really fun things you can do with raw root crops.
I love my mandolin my partner teases me about it because I put it out and pu
brings that out and it
turnip and rutabagas it’s a completely different experience then the
WE don’t grow turnips or rutabegas. It seems like another reason is they get buggy?
flea beets, little black jumping beetles that get on brassicas
those will also attack your winter radishes
we would plant rutabegas around June 15th
late July in upper midwest the flea beetles aren’t a problem anymore
I talked earlier about not going out and spraying the
Pyrethrin made out of poisonous daisies
right over the row
knock down those beetles
give a little protection.
Is there a favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be?
I’d take my colonial hoe, that fine bladed hoe for taking care of .
What a mandolin is, is a tool, that is used for creating rapidly even slices of a product.
12 or 16 inches long, on an inclined plane maybe 4-5 inches wide
in the middle you can adjust how high that blade is, you slide the vegetables over it, and you slice them that way
use the guard! Use it the way they tell you.
She said their sharp!
you’re going hard!
A favorite internet resource?
I don’t turn to the internet for
pretty connected guy
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
Favorite reading material
making living from selling vegetables
Growing for Market magazine by farmers for farmers
how to manage your business
I’m really excited about JM Fortier
I think about the ones that guided me through my initial experiences
really Eliot Coleman’s new organic grower
I think he’s impractical taking about 5 acres
I love John Seymour’s The New Self Sufficient Gardener
I used to sit in my dorm room.
If there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
We need more small scale organic farmers,
I’m not talking about doing 1-2 acres
but also for different corps
We need more farmers
more in touch with growing their food.
I talked about my environmental ethos.
How I came into ag from that prospective
If you want to change the world you change how we eat
more land is used for farmland for any other purpose! And so if you farm or ranch land.
if you change how we’re managing that. Then you’re change the planet.
you cant make that from an office
We need people on the ground, we need people succeeding at farming! More small scale organic farmers. What that comes down to. More people willing pay
you should be eating organic produce, organic produce and organic food and preferelaby local organic food.
Who said saving the world is easy?
I don’t do easy
It ain’t easy, it’s hard work
it sucks to think about everything you do all the time. I don’t want to come off as a purist. I have places that I compromise. There’s limited amount of dollars in my wallet.
making those choices when
if you want to succeed at farming you have to be good at growing. You have tomato money.
that’s how you can buy the seeds the next year
how you pay to stay on the land.
you pay your taxes so your kids can go to college
If we can’t have farmers do that.
IDK if your listeners are
The average of farmers in this country is north of 60. What’s gonna happen. That’s the average age of farmers in this country.
that means there’s a lot of 70 and 80 year. There’s a lot of 40 year old farmers.
we’re aging our population out of this very important and fundamental occupation. Where we actually are in touch with the earth. We’re making a difference out there. I don’t think people realize this farmers provide tremendous economical severe.
As we have more land occupied by tenants instead o f farmer owners
we’er losing the connection to do those ecological services
to provide the drainage
there reason we have flood problems in the midwest
is because we no longer have the ability to absorb the water that falls on our land.
grass fed beef on healthy pastures
you dramatically increase the ability of the oil
you keep nitrates
city of des moines spends on water treatment
because of crap farmers are putting on their lines.
trying to get recoup because the city the water, the water! Right? Plants and people are made of water and grass and the water is polluted! IT’s undrinkable now because of the crap way people are managing farmland. That’s not gonna change in a cheap food economy. It’s not gonna change unless we get more we need more
sustainable farmers small farmer get on the land, off the tractor seat.
go be on the land
be a part of it….
I like it. I think listens will too!!
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
Carl Hammer is a compost maker extradorinaire, VT compost company, but I’ve worked with carl for years and years
he is a compost master
compost is held together
little bubbles where the how the earthworms that’s what we call soil structure
is a substance called glominlin, that’s what makes them stick together into something we would actually call soil. Carl says “glomilin is the glue that holds the world together”
when your farming and
your out there with the soil. Your interacting and participating in the glue that holds the water together.
Do they ship it anywhere? Coming up with good compost is hard to do? Were ‘ alway looking for good soil.
if your looking for compost
Let’s talk about what it means if it’s labeled as organic
the only regulations are around food
if your buying something that says your buying
can you put together a truckload
that’s going further something west
last stop on the
i think you
gardener’s supply company
How do we connect with you?
Go ahead to listen to farmer-to-farmer
find us on iTunes, stitcher