Category Archives: Community

We are hiring a full-time farm intern

General description: Little Hat Creek Farm is a 5-acre diversified vegetable farm and wood-fired bakery located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. 2017 will be our fourth season of selling at three farmer’s markets and through a 20-25 member CSA. We grow about 50 different annual vegetables on approximately one acre, we keep chickens for eggs. and we grow a few perennial fruit crops. In the spring, we also sell vegetable, herb, and flower seedlings for gardeners. Our growing practices, which include cover cropping, crop rotation, plastic mulch, and hay mulch, are geared towards promoting soil biodiversity and maximum nutrition. We avoid the use of chemicals. Our pastries and slow-fermented sourdough breads are mixed by hand and baked in a wood-fired oven. We strive to include as much local flour and produce from our farm in our baked goods as possible. While our wholesale business continues to grow, we are primarily focused on direct-marketing our produce and baked goods to our customers. In addition to ourselves, you can expect to work with another full-time bakery worker, and additional part-time workers from time to time. This is a full-time hourly paid farm position.

Skills desired: You are a good fit to for this position if you love making and sharing good food and if our farm+bakery business model excites you. You get pleasure in seeing (and eating) the fruits of your hard work. You want to learn more about what it takes to run a successful farm business, and how to grow nutritious and delicious food. You are a self-starter who can anticipate tasks and you work well independently and with others. You take pride in performing routine tasks quickly and efficiently while attending to detail, and you are able to problem-solve on the fly. You are punctual, able to safely lift fifty pounds, and able to meet deadlines. You are comfortable driving a van on mountain roads and have a clean driving record.

Duties: You will be responsible for routine farm tasks like seeding, watering, planting, harvesting, sorting, weeding, and mulching. You will be expected to help keep the greenhouse and packing station tidy, including washing flats and harvest containers. You will assist us at our busy farmer’s market stand, help us pack our CSA, and help manage our laying hens. Additional duties may include post-harvest processing like pickling, jamming and drying; egg-washing; deliveries; helping with production, packaging tasks, or cleaning tasks in the bakery.

Duration and Hours: You will work 30-40 hours per week starting in May or June 2017. The start date is negotiable, but we require you to commit to stay at least through the end of August. Beyond that, we are open to the possibility of extending the position through the end of October. Most weeks, your hours will not exceed 50 hours per week. We strive to keep your hours regular and predictable, with early morning start times required on market days.

Meals: You will have free access to unsold farm produce, eggs, bread and pastries. Should you live on the farm, you will have access to a shared kitchen and bathroom.

Compensation: $8/hr, plus trading privileges at market and free access to unsold farm produce, eggs, and baked goods. A room in our house is available for $150/mo rent (including internet and utilities), with access to a shared bathroom and kitchen. You will receive training in marketable skills, including how to grow nutritious and delicious vegetables, and how to start and run your own business. You will also have access to the logic behind everything we do. We make a point of sharing the details of our farming, baking, and business practices, so we encourage you to ask about all aspects of starting and running a business like ours. And because there are many ways of doing things, we also take you on visits to 2-3 other farms and bakeries over the course of the season.

To apply, please send a resume, cover letter, and three current references to littlehatcreek@gmail.com.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Your farmer and baker,

Ben & Heather

crew-2016

Our 2015-2016 crew

New pickup location at the Rockfish Valley Community Center!

We have added a new pickup location in Nelson County!  As of Nov 12, you can get your wood-fired bread and pastries at the Rockfish Valley Community Center on Saturdays, during opening hours. If you have an existing subscription, and would like to switch to this location, please contact us, and we will make the change.

Happy eating!

Ben and Heather

No Cause for Alarm: Food Safety and Farmers’ Markets


We read this recent opinion piece in the New York Times after a skeptical friend sent it to us. A few days later, another friend, a science journalist, sent the same article to a group of farmers (including us), asking if anyone would draft a letter to the editor in response. After checking out the piece and its source–this unpublished working paper–we agreed that the author, Marc Bellemare, was overstating his results when he sounded the alarm that farmers markets are correlated with a higher incidence of food-borne illness per capita. To his credit, Bellemare reminds readers that the correlation that he found does not imply causation. But reports like this get picked up and repeated without the caveats that Bellemare included in his article. We agree with our journalist friend who said that the New York Times gave Bellemare a big megaphone for results that are less than conclusive.

To understand the difference between correlation and causation, imagine reading that states with more traffic accidents also had more food-borne illnesses. Another way of saying this is that there is a positive correlation between traffic accidents and food-borne illnesses. It would be difficult to imagine anyone arguing that traffic accidents caused the illnesses, or for that matter, that illnesses caused the accidents. Similarly, there is nothing in Bellemare’s results that would prohibit the conclusion that food-borne illness caused increases in farmers markets, rather than the other way around.

Still, a correlation between two variables is usually the first clue that they might be related. The stronger the correlation, the more likely it is to catch a researcher’s eye. If you look at the figure above, you see one of Bellemare’s main results. It shows a correlation between farmers’ markets per capita and a variable that is not well-explained in the paper, but which presumably represents all reported outbreaks of food-borne illness. The green dots are the actual data, the red line is a type of trend-line, and the blue shape is the uncertainty about the location of that trend-line. The steeper the trend-line, the stronger the correlation, so a flat line would indicate no correlation.  Look at the actual data points (green dots). If you were looking at the data for the first time, without the blue shape and red line, would you think there was a relationship, or would this just look like a blob of points?  If you do think there is a relationship, is it a strong relationship?

We don’t think so. To us, it looks like a shotgun blast of points that show no trend. But even if you think it does show a trend, it would still just be a correlation.

Mistaking correlation for causation is a common error that we have written about before. What bothers us most is the New York Times should have known better. By publishing the piece with the headline, “Farmer’s Markets and Food-Borne Illness,” the NYT is implying that shopping at farmer’s markets increases the risk of contracting a food-borne illness. This, despite the fact that in the conclusion of his unpublished working paper, Bellemare himself writes “from a policy perspective, it would be a mistake to take the results in this paper and discourage or encourage people to purchase food from farmers markets on the basis of our results.”

That said, we welcome a discussion of ways to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. It is the responsibility of small and large producers alike to ensure the food that they sell is safe. Regulators rightly focus on larger producers, whose products are available in supermarkets nationwide. Higher risk foods, like cheese and meat, are also more closely regulated, even at farmers’ markets. It is likely that small producers of lower risk foods, like vegetables, are not inspected because the risk of an outbreak is low relative the impact it would have, since each farm serves a small area, and not an entire region.

And therein lies the main safety mechanism for consumers. By shopping at a farmer’s market, you are buying food grown by a member of your community. No-one wants to make their neighbors sick, and we all know that word travels quickly if there ever is a problem. Farmer’s markets give customers the opportunity to make food safety judgements for themselves, by asking producers about their practices, or by visiting their facility. It is when food production is removed from the community that it becomes necessary for the government to step in and inspect on the consumer’s behalf. So until there is actual evidence that food purchased at a farmer’s market is unsafe, we can relax and continue to enjoy farmers’ markets for their fresh nutient-dense food, local economic benefit, and sense of community.

We did send a letter to the editor in response to Bellemare’s opinion piece, but the Times declined to publish it. Here it is:

To the Editor:

Marc Bellemare writes that certain outbreaks of food-borne illness are correlated with the number of farmers markets per capita in a state (“Farmers Markets and Food-borne Illness” Op-Ed, Jan. 17). He rightly concedes that correlation does not imply causation, so for the Times to publish his non-peer-reviewed analysis seems premature and risks sowing undue fear of local food. To imply that farmers markets are to blame ignores that, as Bellemare writes, “most…illness [is] caused by consumers who undercook or fail to wash their food,” no matter where it is purchased. Food at supermarkets is anonymous. But at the farmers markets where we sell in central Virginia, customers can ask about food safety issues including pesticide applications, use of growth hormones and antibiotics, and worker conditions. The Times’ ill-considered publishing of Bellemare’s results stands to misinform consumers.

Ben Stowe and Heather Coiner

Day 5: 2016 CSA signups are now open!

We are excited to announce that signups to our 2016 Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA) are now open!

Purchasing a share entitles you to 19 weeks of ecological produce from our farm and a loaf of wood-fired sourdough bread. We pack our CSA boxes with fresh fruits and vegetables that are picked at their peak, so that our members can experience the best our farm has to offer from the beginning to the end of the growing season. We also publish a popular weekly newsletter with farm news and recipes to help you make the most of your box.

To keep things interesting, every year we introduce a few new varieties. For 2016, we are adding carrots, beets, broccoli raab (rapini), as well as new varieties of tomatoes and squash. But we are keeping prices, pickup times, and locations the same! For more details on our CSA, please go here.

You can sign up by filling out this form. We sold out last year, so don’t dally too long. We look forward to welcoming you to our community!

Day 2: We got married!

On October 11 Ben and I got married here on the farm. We were blessed with the most magical wedding we could have hoped for. The ceremony was officiated by our dear friend Jim Morrison, anointed for one day by the Judge in Albemarle County, and attended by more than 100 friends and family. Many thanks to Katherine Turner, for her photographs.

The best parties take on a life of their own, nudged into being by their hosts, but carried along and transformed by the imagination and initiative of the guests. For a party this size to do that—which it did—is testament to the skills, hard work, and guidance of our wedding party: Sarah Stowe and Stephenie Ritchey. Thanks gals.

Our guests outdid themselves in ways we know and in ways we don’t know. Popsicles appeared. Yards and yards of tulle for decorations appeared. A stunning hand-woven willow arbor appeared. Buckets, and then more buckets, of flowers appeared.

The tractor barn got transformed into a relaxing bar, complete with an embarrassing slideshow of baby pictures. The pole barn got transformed into a dance hall. The square dance started, and then kept going. Every time we looked there was a new band and a new caller. Gorgeous custom wedding shot glasses appeared, and then the cider toast got poured.

Bountiful bread, trout, and squash emerged from our oven. Pork and chicken got smoked and pulled. The food tables groaned under the weight of the feast. An outdoor home, complete with living room and kitchen, appeared in our front yard as a retreat from the fray. And a place for hung-over campers to breakfast the next day.

It was incredible.

 

Giving thanks: seven posts in seven days

Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday. For us, it marks the end of our markets and celebrates the successful completion of another growing season. It is an occasion to gather with family and friends for no other reason than to be together and to feast. It is an excuse to make—and eat—ridiculous amounts of food. And it is an annual reminder to feel grateful.

We couldn’t feel more grateful this year. We have had an incredible season filled with wonderful people, great markets and unforgetable milestones. The experience of starting a second season and having customers remember us, and seek us out at market, was unexpectedly gratifying. The oven that we built earlier this year allowed us to bake much more bread, and even dabble in pastry. Our CSA expanded and included donors that allowed us to subsidize shares for four families through our Pay-What-You-Can program. El Nino provided autumn warmth that made November markets positively pleasant.

But nothing beats getting to know our community more deeply, and knowing that we are serving it in ways that we believe in. We are so grateful to you, the people that support us, and our farm. You are a big part of what makes what we do possible.

The other part is the work our soil does for us. We had the pleasure this year of seeing our soil respond to our care. An eye-popping root crop followed a buckwheat cover crop, and the soil is looser now than ever. The conversion of seed into vegetable never ceases to be a source of awe. May we never loose sight of the soil, and sun, and rain, that make our life possible.

Over the next week, you can read some more specific reasons why we are feeling grateful this year. This is the first of seven posts in seven days. Then we will take a break for the holidays, and be back at it in January. Happy reading!