Published Sep 12, 2014

Vegetables + Ducks + (Smoked) Turkey = Delicious Day of Learning at Faux Field Day

By Tamsyn Jones

This post is a little late in coming, since the Practical Farmers field day at Genuine Faux Farm was Aug. 17 — but better late than never! It was such an excellent field day, with a robust crowd — and even more robust questions — that it would be a shame to keep the knowledge to myself. I was especially excited to attend because I knew I would learn a LOT from Rob and Tammy Faux, eat tasty food and be well entertained to boot (they both have such a fantastic sense of humor. You can get an idea by reading Rob and Tammy’s blog post on the field day). I wasn’t disappointed!

Nor were the 60 or so people who traveled to the Faux’s farm, located near Tripoli, to learn about “Research, Planning & Intercropping on a CSA Farm,” ask questions and enjoy the Iowa sunshine and heat. It was also a special occasion for Rob and Tammy, who are celebrating their 10th year of farming this year. “It still feels like we’re beginners,” Rob mused. He told beginning farmers in attendance to take heart, because even after a decade, he and Tammy still feel clueless at times. “This is why we do research and experiment. We haven’t done things the same way two years in a row,” he said, adding wryly, “If you’ve been watching the weather, you’ll know why.”

Duck Breed Trial

The first stop on the field tour was to view the ducks Tammy and Rob are raising as part of a Practical Farmers of Iowa on-farm research trial (more on the trial in just a bit). Tammy explained that they’re trying to answer the question: “What’s a good duck breed for meat”?

Tammy led this part of the field day, and said she loves Muscovy ducks — one of the breeds they’re raising — for several reasons: they’re good on pasture, they’re good meat ducks and they’re not greasy. But she’s been paying to get already-hatched ducklings from a nursery, and has never raised her own from eggs. At $8 per duck plus shipping, they are not inexpensive — and that’s part of the reason for the trial. Could she and Rob save money by raising ducks from eggs?

She decided to try the Appleyard duck breed and to compare their affordability, ease of raising and taste with that of the Muscovys. “We suspect Muscovys are heavier than Appleyards, so the latter might not get as big,” Tammy said.

Since Rob and Tammy raise their ducks on pasture, both breeds would need to perform well in a pasture setting. They use moveable electric wire netting to protect the birds during the day, and put the ducks into an enclosure at night to protect them from nocturnal predators. Stay tuned for a future PFI research report on this topic!

Vegetable Fields

The next segment of the field day focused on several aspects of Genuine Faux Farm’s vegetable production. Rob and Tammy raise produce for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business, using a complex set of field rotations to help manage pests and weeds, as well as to help ensure diversity as a countermeasure against unpredictable weather or disease outbreaks that could take a real toll on their harvest. Rob covered a lot of ground (no pun intended!) on the vegetable tour, and probably more information than I can fit here. But he touched on some overarching categories — cover crops, weed management, companion plantingtomato cage types and high tunnel production, to name a few.

Here are some of the basic details about their management:

  • They have 30-foot buffer strips on the east and north sides (they want to have both vertical and horizontal buffer protection).
  • They have 7 plots with rows that are about 200 feet long and 60 feet wide. Rob said: “We came up with this because of the size of the land we have, and what we are trying to grow. We want a variety of produce, so we need multiple plots for rotation.”
  • The length of their rotation is about 7 years. “We want cucurbits at least one field away from each (or two years apart from being in the same field),” Rob explained. “We learned a lesson from row croppers: Corn borers have adapted by having some hatch after one year, while others hatch after two years. You can’t fool Mother Nature unless you have a bit of randomness.”
  • A sample rotation schedule for a single field might look like this: melons; beans and potatoes; brassicas and alliums; peas, pole beans and cucumbers; carrots; and garlic, summer squash, zucchini and early root crops.
  • Rob and Tammy like to “hedge their bets” and have a crop on two sides of the farm, so if something affects a crop on one side, it might leave the other side unscathed. “For example, green beans,” Rob said. “Last year we had over 400 pounds in [the high tunnel], but the ones out in the field drowned. So we still had some for our CSA.”
  • For long-term weed management, Rob said that if something has a short enough season, he does two successions — and if there’s time, he’ll do three. “I don’t do it too early or late, because I don’t want to break the bank and then not have a greater than 70 percent chance of producing something.”
  • Rob and Tammy make extensive use of companion planting and intercropping to help break up the preferred habitats of pests. “Companion crops also bring in pollinators, reduce spraying and break up the monocrop,” Rob said. Another technique is to change the maturation rate for a crop by, for example, planting two varieties of a crop. “Marigolds or sage are good companions in brassicas,” Rob said. “Think about sun or shade preference when selecting companions.”

While the topics covered are probably too numerous to mention here, it might be helpful to share some of the MANY questions people had, and some of Rob’s answers. Here are just a few:

Q: When do you put in cover crops?
A: Anytime I can.

Q: What do you think about quick-turnaround cover crops?
A: “We’re looking at this for a PFI research project. We want to know if we can grow a cash crop, then a cover crop, then a cash crop all in the same season. We’ve tried buckwheat with some success, also Japanese millet, sunhemp, sudangrass, rye … We tried a small patch of hairy vetch. That was a no-no when all you have is a lawn tractor, because it just wraps around the blades. We like buckwheat, because you can get it started in almost anything. When it gets solid white flowers you want to kill it — you don’t really want it to go to seed — but it’s easy to kill and breaks down quickly.”

Q: What customer base are you targeting with certified organic?
A: “We could probably stop certifying at this point in our career, because we have a reputation. But that wasn’t why we did it. We felt the practices were the best at the time. I feel that if I believe in it, and the process, I need to go through the effort. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Others who don’t believe in [the organic certification] are just doing it for money. But the people I was targeting were Tammy Faux and Rob Faux. We did it for us more than anything. The paperwork is a pain, but it covers you at times. You have lots of data on your farm and crops, and it makes you track what you’re doing.”

Q: What’s the effect of cover crops on pollinators?
A: “Bees love buckwheat. And with cover crops, you’ll have frogs. We try to mow higher at first to give them time to move out. We have lots of diversity, that’s for sure.”

Q: Was it a study that got you (Rob) to plant basil with tomatoes?
A: “No, just some wisdom that was passed on. There’s no proof via studies, but there are some writings about positive root synergies between the two.”

Q: Do you plant perennial crops on the farm?
A: “We have some asparagus and have tried rhubarb, but it hates us. Yes, you CAN kill rhubarb with active neglect.”

North Field Stop — Late Crops

The next stop on was to see the Faux’s north field, where Rob explained that he and Tammy were originally planning to put a high tunnel. This didn’t work out for various reasons, so they use the field to plant late crops and use low, solar-charged electric net fencing to keep out rabbits. They use drip tape and an overland water source (header line) to get water to the field.

“There are pros and cons to drip tape,” Rob said. “We prefer to water deeply rather than often. We don’t have a soil monitor; we just use our hands to see the depth of the dryness in the soil.”

Pastured Broiler Chickens

The field day then switched back to poultry, and Tammy Faux took the helm to explain their approach to raising pastured broiler chickens. These birds are also involved in a research project: Tammy is comparing how Freedom Ranger chickens purchased from two different hatcheries perform (one hatchery is based more locally in Iowa, and would save money if she could confidently buy chicks there). Some questions she wants to answer:

1). Do Hoover Hatchery chickens get bigger than those from J.M Hatchery?

2). How well does each perform on pasture? Tammy rotates the birds under some apple trees, for mutual benefit to trees and birds (the chickens eat pests that might feed on the trees, and the chickens enjoy a bountiful insect harvest while fertilizing the pasture).

These birds also get locked up at night — but Tammy has come up with a most clever system: She purchased an old horse trailer, which is large enough to house the birds overnight, and it has wheels so can be easily rotated. “The biggest downside is that [the color] is dark,” Tammy said. “So I have to get out here early to open it up in the summer, because they build up so much body heat.”

Moveable High Tunnel

The last stop of the day before the potluck meal was on the opposite side of the farm to view the Fauxs’ moveable high tunnel. The delectable smell of smoked, brined turkey wafted over guests as we headed to the field, so it’s a true testament to their curiosity that they were so engaged in Rob’s discussion! Rob shared a little background on the high tunnel’s specs  and management:

  • The structure is a 32-by-72-foot building
  • They only move it about once a year. It can be moved with three people in about a half-day, with no tractor.
  • Rob and Tammy will sometimes overwinter certain crops in the high tunnel. Currently, they are growing a mix of crops, including Wapsipinnicon peach tomatoes. “Other varieties do just as well in the field, while some hate it there,” Rob said. “The Wapsi does very well in the high tunnel as opposed to the field.”
  • It’s also pretty durable. Rob said they’ve had 70 mph winds come through and left the high tunnel unscathed.

Potluck — and Cats!

After a full day of learning (which seemed to go so fast!), it was time to enjoy the special treat Rob and Tammy had prepared: a 29-pound, 10-week-old pastured turkey raised by the Fauxes that chef Chris of the Savory Spoon in Fredericka brined for 36 hours and then smoked with greens. Guests had brought plenty of salads, side dishes — even vegetarian sushi rolls! — and desserts to share, so quite a feast was had by all. I must confess, the smoked turkey was so delicious, I had to save a couple of chunks to share with my two (somewhat spoilt) cats at home …. (they gave enthusiastic meows and head thrashes of approval!).

The afternoon was perfect for relaxing with friends, meeting new people and enjoying the bounty of an Iowa summer’s harvest. Rob and Tammy said they were excited to learn that many of the guests had traveled from other counties to attend — indicating a real interest in the content of the field day. One older couple, Ralph and Norma Beck, had learned about the field day from PFI field day guides they picked up at the Floyd County Fair (thanks to PFI board member Wendy Johnson for requesting some to take there!).

The couple raise some beef cattle, but were mostly curious to learn what other Iowa farmers are doing and growing. They brought delicious oat bars for dessert, and had a great time meeting and chatting with PFI members.

After the field day was over, and guests had slowly trickled away, we got one final treat: Cubby, one of Rob and Tammy’s cats, decided to make a special appearance (she must have known the attending PFI staff were cat lovers!). We all had a good pet before heading home ourselves. The whole day came off without a hitch, and we were most impressed with the scope of Rob and Tammy’s knowledge, their superb skills as event hosts, and their ability to make so many people feel right at home. I can’t wait to go back again!