Chicken Q&A With Wayne Martin

While Cornercopia's main business is growing fresh, organic produce, the farm also keeps a flock of chickens on the farm during the summer months. To give you an introduction to our wonderful feathered friends, I got to ask Wayne Martin, the Assistant Extension Professor that works with Cornercopia on our chicken project, a few questions.

1. What is your University position and how does it translate to what you do at Cornercopia?
I am with University of Minnesota Extension. My position title is Assistant Extension Professor, Alternative Livestock Systems. I tend to work with smaller scale farmers, and with all domesticated species, though mainly I provide information and education on poultry, sheep, lambs, pigs, and to some extent, cattle.

It makes sense for me to be involved with Cornercopia chicken production, to provide some knowledge and guidance, and it fits well with the type of work I do around the state. Interest in organic chicken production is gradually increasing, so it's good to be gaining knowledge on how to do so. 

2. What is/are the reason(s) Cornercopia keeps chickens?
Artificial fertilizers are not approved for use on certified organic farm ground, so producers must use other alternatives, which come from either plant or animal sources. Chickens provide high quality manure fertilizer for the crops raised on the Student Organic Farm.

The birds are also raised to give students and community members exposure to animals raised on organic land. We hold workshops during the summer to teach participants how to raise broilers in a pasture setting.

3. What kind of chickens does Cornercopia keep? Will the next round of chickens be a different type?
We typically have broilers, or meat chickens, either Cornish X or Red Rangers. We have had layers for egg production in the past, but no longer do so.

4. Can you describe the "chicken tractors" that the chickens live in and how has the housing for the chickens developed over the years?
“Chicken tractors” are simply portable huts that the birds live in during the time they are on the pasture. Our huts are tall enough to walk inside, and support feeders and waterers hanging from the ceiling. They have wheels to help make moving them easier, given that is done on a daily basis. The huts protect the birds from predators and also give them some protection during stormy weather.

5. What are the general duties of the chicken interns and what are the learning outcomes of the jobs they do?
The student interns are taught to take care of the birds from the time they arrive as day-old chicks, until they are ready for processing. They learn to properly feed and water the birds, and to observe the birds for signs of any illness that might affect the flock. They learn every aspect of good poultry husbandry.

...turns into this guy.
Interns are with our chickens from when this little guy...

6. What is your favorite part about working with the Cornercopia chickens?
There are many things I enjoy about working with the chickens at Cornercopia. First of all, it’s great to be outside on a beautiful Minnesota summer day. Can’t beat that. Then there is always something new to learn about working with animals. A lot of creativity has gone in to problem solving with the birds, and with designing feeders and huts. Finally, it’s wonderful to work with such interested and interesting students. They are always a great group of eager learners, full of energy and good ideas. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds as well. It’s very easy to get involved with and spend a lot of time at the Student Organic Farm!

Lindsay, who was one of the chicken interns last summer, holds
one of our broilers. 

This Week At Cornercopia: Wild Cooking Greens

This week at Cornercopia, we did something a little odd. Instead of just looking in our beds of vegetables for the vegetables you've come to expect at our farmers market stands, we looked for weeds as well. This doesn't sound too weird until you realize that we were looking for them to harvest, not weed. To say that you're eating weeds seems rather uncivilized, so we like to call this abundance of foraged food "wild cooking greens. There's tons of them out in our fields that the interns have been learning about this week. Amaranth (often called pigweed), purslane, and lambsquarters are the three most common.

Palmer Amaranth

There's many who seem to agree with us when we talk about eating foraged greens. Yesterday, the same day we were selling amaranth at our farmers market stands, an article came out called "This weed is taking over the planet. On the upside, it's delicious!" Palmer amaranth, a relative of the plant that is used to grow amaranth as a grain, is one of the many "weeds" we find in our gardens that can actually be eaten. Lynn Sosnoskie, a weed scientist at UC Davis has an awesome quote about the mindset we have about weeds. "We call these plants weeds because of the way we interact with them. They're in our gardens, they're in our lawns, and they're competing with plants that we prefer to eat. But a lot of the plants that are weeds here in the United States were brought here purposefully - to be eaten." Ms. Sosnoskie has done some reasearch with our friend, the amaranth as well. She and others in the Horticulture department at UC Davis think that these weeds are underutilized and could be utilized as a real food source. Over at Purdue University's indigenous vegetables project, they're looking at the popularity of amaranth in eastern Africa and how this green might have a jump in popularity as the United States gets more immigrants from that region of the world.

Challenging the "weed mindset" is not terribly difficult once you actually try eating some of these greens. Amaranth, for example, can be cooked like spinach, lambsquarters tastes like spinach as well and the young shoots are excellent in salads, and purslane, another common weed, can be eaten like a sprout. My favorite discovery so far is purslane and cottage cheese. Yum. Many of these greens keep well in your fridge as well. Purslane is a succulent green so it stays fresh for longer than a flat leaf green. Amaranth has an impressive taproot that is fairly easy to pull up, so when harvesting, pulling out the whole plant and wrapping the taproot in wet paper towel keeps the plants fresh longer.

So now that you've made the amazing discovery that all of these things are indeed edible, go out and grab some, if you know what they are. ALWAYS be sure of identification before eating. If you're unsure about the weeds you're pulling from your garden or yard, check with someone who can identify the plant for you. Better yet, hop on over to the farm and we can teach you what it is you're looking for. We've got TONS of amaranth that you can come out and pick for free that we can send you home with as well. You've got it right: Free U-Pick Amaranth.

If that doesn't persuade you, we've got some adorable baby animals on the farm right now. Graham, one of our interns, is doing a research project with baby bunnies that just arrived at the farm this week. We also got our second flock of broiler chickens in. Nothing like hundreds of peeping fluffballs (two hundred to be exact) to brighten up your day! If you're interested in coming out to the farm to help us pick amaranth or help with any of our other farm jobs, you can contact us at the email listed in our info section on the right hand side of the page!

You could meet this little guy!

Or these cuties and 170 of their closest friends!

This Week At Cornercopia: Berries and Squash Bugs

We've had another busy week here at Cornercopia. Earlier this week, we saw the emergence of our first berries and fruits! There were only a couple pints so they got snapped up quick at our St. Paul farmer's market stand, but even after they were gone, most of you still asked about them. Yes, we'll try to have more next week.

Another question many of you asked was "What is a serviceberry?" 

THIS is a serviceberry!

Many of you probably have seen serviceberries growing wild around Minnesota and just didn't know what they were or know it by another name. It has a lot of them. Some of them are saskatoon, shadbush, juneberry and sugarplum. I actually had known them as sugarplums first before I knew any of the other names. If we were to be all scientific about things, this berry bush is called by the same name as it's genus: Amelanchier. No wonder we call it something different because someone is going to need to hand me a pronunciation guide for that one. The reasons behind the common names are all very interesting. Here's a portion about it from it's Wikipedia page:

"The name serviceberry comes from the similarity of the fruit to the related European Sorbus; it is also said that their flowers heralded the roads in the Appalachian mountains becoming passable, which meant that the circuit-riding preachers would be coming soon and church services would resume; also, that the ground was thawed enough to dig graves, and funeral services could be had for those who died over the winter. Juneberry refers to the fruits of certain species becoming ripe in June. The name saskatoon originated from a Cree Indian noun misâskwatômina (misāskwatōmina,misaaskwatoomina) for Amelanchier alnifolia. The city of SaskatoonSaskatchewan is named after this plant. Shadberry refers to the shad runs in certain New England streams, which generally took place about when the trees bloomed."

Pretty interesting stuff. This genus has about 20 species of shrubs and trees in the Rosaceae family and is used for it's fruits, it's foliage and shape in landscaping, and is important to several different wild animals, birds and insects. It's a very sweet berry, and I always like to describe the flavor as like a blueberry but without the tart-ness. If you want to know more about the serviceberry, I suggest checking out the Wikipedia page. 

Besides the berries, another main event this week has been battling squash bugs and squash vine borers, the nasty buggers. They've been laying eggs on our squash plants and we've had the pleasure of going around to scrape all the eggs off. Lovely. We've also been on the lookout for the adults to, well, squash (pun intended). 

Squash borers, our first enemy, lay their eggs on the stems of the squash (although we have found them in other places) and when they hatch, the larvae burrow themselves into the stem.Not so great for our squash plants. So it's much easier to kill the eggs than try to perform surgery on the poor squash vine to get the bugs out. These eggs we simply scrape off. The adults are pretty brightly colored, which helps in spotting them zooming around the squash patch. 

The second enemy are the squash bugs. Some people know them as stink bugs because they let off a gross odor when threatened. I personally think it smells like nail polish remover. Their eggs are a bit more tricky. They'll lay them in clumps on the bottom of the squash leaves and you have to make sure to pick off all of them and, unlike the sqaush borer eggs, drop them in soapy water. Yuck. 

Other than that, we've been doing lots of weeding, planting and trellising of tomatoes (they're growing like crazy!) But now we're all off to enjoy our Fourth of July weekend. We certainly hope yours is lovely as well!

This Week At Cornercopia

Happy Friday from Cornercopia! We've had a pretty eventful week here at the farm. We hope all of you stayed safe and dry through all the tumultuous weather this week. The summer storms have been causing a bit of trouble on the farm. Some heavy winds gave our poor chickens quite a scare when it lifted up a few of our "chicken tractors" and letting some of them loose in the field. Thankfully, we were able to return almost all of them to their homes and they're now safe and sound. The wind also lifted up some of the landscaping fabric around our tomato plants with a few plant casualties but we've managed to staple it all down again (and hopefully keep it that way through the next storms).

The rainfall yesterday (and the flash flood warning that came with it) kept us inside planting another round of greens. Some of the interns also went over some food safety and record-keeping training material. Our rain gauge out by one of the allium patches recorded 3 inches of rain yesterday which, while it was happening wasn't so fun, but, with the warm weather that has followed it, is going to be great for our crops!

That's a lot of rain!!
Our berries loved all that rain!
We hope that lots of our fruit crops will be on their way to our market stands soon with the boost they've gotten from all this rain.

Speaking of market stands, we had our first market stand of the year outside of Andrew Boss Meat Lab on the St. Paul campus on Wednesday! We had lots of greens, herbs and some garlic and onion tops for our customers and set up along side our friends from the UMN Mycology Club. Thanks to all who came out to see us! We hope to be there every Wednesday from now until the end of our season.

First (Mini) Farmers Market Stand!

This Wednesday we will be at the Andrew Boss Meat Lab on the UMN St. Paul Campus selling salad greens! Stop by and see us between 2pm-5pm, weather permitting. Hopefully the weather will cooperate with us during the next few days and we'll be able to harvest our greens in time for market. We will keep you updated if our plans get rained on.