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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

Subscribe and save 50% off of your first order!

We want to keep our oven hot this winter and keep you in the wood-fired baked goods you know and love. But we need your help! Create a new subscription by December 10 and use the discount code SIGNUPDRIVE50 to receive 50% off of your first order! That’s on top of the 10% discount you get just for subscribing.

How to sign up
To get started, go to our online store. When you select a product, say, chocolate croissants, you will see a few choices, shown above. If you choose “one-time purchase” you generate a single order for the next delivery date at full price. The discount code doesn’t apply. If you choose “Subscribe and Save”, you get 10% off of the retail price of the croissant, and the discount code applies to your first order. You may opt to get your croissant every week or every other week.

Continue adding products to your cart, choosing whether you want them just once, every week, or every other week. (Yes, they can all go in the same cart.) Then, at checkout, select your delivery day and location (see options below) and put in your credit card information (or select our invoice option). You will also be prompted to create an account. We require an account because this allows you to manage your subscription.

Managing your subscription

Once you have your subscription, there are several changes that you can make. You may place vacation holds, swap out products, add or remove products from your subscription, or change quantities. To help you navigate these options, we have created this step-by-step guide. If you have additional questions, please see our FAQ, or reply to this email.

That’s it! We look forward to baking for you!

Click on this interactive map to view our pickup days and locations.

 

A new way to get bread!

After a couple of months in the works, we are thrilled to launch our new wood-fired oven subscription service! You tell us what you want us to bake for you every week, and we will deliver to a location near you in Nelson County, Charlottesville, and Lexington. We initially conceived of this service as a “Community Supported Bakery” share similar to Pannier Bread Company‘s share (Heather’s first bread-by-bike business), but wanted more flexibility. We think this oven subscription retains the philosophy of a CSB while offering you the ability to fully customize your subscription.

When we fire the oven, we want to make sure the heat produced by the wood we burn is put to good use baking bread and pastries for our community. By subscribing to a weekly bake, you support us by making it worth it to us to fire, because we know that many people are going to benefit every time we bake. You also help us predict our flour orders. Our most important flours are shipped directly from small mills, and we often need to know four weeks in advance what we will need.

In return for your commitment, we will give you 10% off of the retail price of our products!  You can either “set it and forget it”, or you can customize your subscription. If you know you always want the same loaf of bread every week, you can set up your subscription once, and guarantee yourself that bread for the coming weeks while never having to lift a finger again. If you prefer to switch it up, you can access your account and change types and quantities. Another improvement on the CSB is that you can also place your subscription on hold if you go on vacation.

Ready to get started?  Go to our store!

We look forward to baking for you!

Bakery/shed 5: Closing in

You could say we’re in the home stretch of this project now. Here’s what has happened in the last month or two.

The plumbing and electrical were roughed in.

Big red trucks came, replaced a pole, took down a pole, ran a new service and buried the electric to the house–bonus!

Ben moved lots and lots of gravel around.

We couldn’t excavate close to the oven, so in a feat of masterful framing involving strange angles, our contractor connected it to the building with a little interior alcove.

The foamers came and made it look like it snowed upside-down in there.

The doors and windows closed it all in.

Then the sheet rockers came and made walls appear.

And Ben took on a second full-time job as our painting subcontractor.

Now the exterior siding is going up, the interior trim is getting put in, the HVAC is installed and the building is energized.

It won’t be long now!

Ring in the new year with bread!

Update: As of Feb 1, 2015, we regret that we will not be baking bread this winter because we need to replace our oven.  Please check in with us once farmer’s markets start!

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Happy new year everyone!  We’re starting our winter bread deliveries!  Our first bake of 2015 is Friday January 9 on a pre-order basis only.  Want to know more? Please see here for more details. And don’t worry, if you miss this bake, you can still sign up for our February and March bakes at any time.

 

Want to get bread in the winter?

We are pleased to announce that we will be baking bread once a month for pickup on the farm or for delivery to Charlottesville and Lexington.  We are currently looking for drop-off locations in Charlottesville and Lexington.  If you would like to let us use your home or workplace as a drop point, we will make it worth your while. Please let us know!

Here’s how it will work.

One week prior to bake day, we will send you an email with the list of breads that we plan to make.  If you wish to order bread, just reply to the email with your order. We accept payment via Paypal or, if you prefer, you may mail us a check.  If you are picking up on the farm, you may simply give us cash.

For information on pickup days, times and locations as they become available, please check here.

That’s it!  If you want to know when we’re making bread, sign up for a monthly notification.  We promise to be judicious with our emails.

Building a wood-fired oven, part 2

Behold, the finished oven dome! Getting here from here was the slow steady work of many hands.  We are grateful to those hands!

Once the foundation was finished we started laying the subfloor insulation. This layer had to be strong enough to support the entire weight of the oven but still contain air pockets to insulate the hearth. It took us several weeks, and the generous help of many local wineries and restaurants, to collect the 800-odd wine bottles we needed. The wine bottles are tightly packed in a mixture of sawdust and a little bit of “clay slip” which helps cement everything together. Clay slip is made by adding the clay/sand building soil mix to a partial bucket of water and mixing vigorously until the slip has  the consistency of half-and-half.  This insulating mix will also eventually insulate the dome.

Ashley, our intern, has done a great job heading up the mixing of the building soil. Our building soil is a 1:1 mixture of clay from a nearby construction site, and brickies sand. Our mix has changed as we have progressed through the project, going through a series of refinements spear-headed largely by our roommate Aaron, flute-maker and problem-solver extraodinaire. The biggest change was that we started screening the clay part-way through building the dome, and it made for a less clayey, easier to handle, easier to mix building soil.

The subfloor, which is made out of building soil, sits directly on the wine bottles. It is the heat “battery” below the hearth bricks and stores heat from the fire. Once you rake the coals out of the oven and load it with bread, it is the heat stored in this subfloor, and in the dome, that bakes the bread. The thicker it is, the longer the oven will stay hot. We decided on 7 inches, which is really just a wild guess.  We arrived there by considering Kiko Denzer‘s rule of thumb that 1″ of mass takes about one hour to fire, and that we wanted an oven that held enough heat for 3-5 loads of bread.  Kiko, by the way, has been the quiet guide for most of our decisions.

For the subfloor, we made the building soil a little wetter than Kiko recommends because it was more fun and easier on our bodies to sling handfuls of clay into the form, as if it were a giant brick, than to pack it in with our fists. Consolidating the floor was also fun; we surfed on pieces of plywood, shifting our weight to move the clay like a wave beneath our feet. Like water, the clay flowed to fill the low spaces, making leveling a cinch.

Next, we laid the firebrick, first as a mock-up, but then for real, on a carefully screed bed of brickies sand. We confess we were a bit doubtful that the sand would hold the bricks in place, but it worked beautifully. It was a thrill to see the oven hearth for the first time, and imagine little breads baking on it!

We insulated the subfloor with more wine and beer bottles–this is were we used all the non-standard size bottles that we had acquired. We mocked up the door and chimney vent so that we could better visualize how that would work before building the door frame out of red brick mortared with clay slip and an giant overkill angle iron. At this point the chimney is still on the worry-about-it-later list.

Now, finally, we were ready to build the dome. We hung a massive chain from the barn wall to create a cardboard catenary curve template for the oven dome. We want a low dome so that the inside of the oven stays small. This is so that steam from the wet dough hitting the hot hearth will fill the oven chamber and create beautiful crust. But because the oven is wide, there is a danger that the arc is too flat to support the weight of the dome.

 

In the photo, Ben is cutting the line traced by the chain on the cardboard. We placed the cardboard template upright on the firebrick near the back of the hearth and piled sand around it. The sand dome becomes the form that holds the permanent dome of building soil. After the building soil dries, we will remove the sand and the dome will do its part by not falling down.

It took nearly a yard of sand to fill the oven void. We covered the sand dome with plastic, which is plentiful on the farm, and the party started! Despite our grass-roots leanings, we opted for a top-down rather than a bottom-up dome building technique. We knew we couldn’t build the whole dome in a day, even with help, so we needed to build up layers in a way that would not weaken the dome. We had read about what we quickly dubbed the “pancake” technique in Alan Watt’s book and reasoned that even if the thin, concentric dome layers dried a little in-between, the layers could result in a laminated dome that might make the whole thing stronger, sort of like how plywood is stronger than the same thickness of wood. We have no idea, really, but it sounded good to us, so we went for it.

The technique has the additional advantage of absorbing many hands.  Once the entire dome was covered with a single layer of pancakes, we whacked it with boards, slapped it with our hands, rolled it with a rolling pin (no joke, it works great!), smoothed it with a spackle knife, anything we could think of to consolidate all those pancakes into a single mass that moved as a whole.  With the help of our friends, we finished three layers at the party.

Thank you to everyone who came out! At the end of the day, we relaxed with extraordinary food and drinks brought by Kevin and Sherri at the Hopkins Ordinary and our friend Conny. We also fired up our little prototype oven for pizza for the first time. The beautiful arc of fire on the inside of the dome was itself cause for celebration.

Bittman says: “Butter is Back”

Mark Bittman changed my life a few years ago with his book, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The book not only expanded my horizons in the kitchen with its simple recipes, but also served as a sort of desk reference for vegetables, fruits, and grains I had heard of but had never tried.  At the time of the book’s publication, Bittman was a food writer for the New York Times, and I started paying attention to his column.  I liked his recipes for their attitude of, “if you don’t have this ingredient, or the time, or the inclination, just make this substitution/change to the recipe.”  It’s an attitude that led me towards more flexible, adventurous cooking.

More recently, Bittman has transitioned his Times column away from recipes and towards food politics.  He is currently (in my opinion) one of the most articulate advocates for sustainability, real food, and sensible policy.  I was delighted to read his March 25th column, “Butter is Back”.

When I read it a couple of days ago, it was at the top of the “most emailed” list of articles on the Times website.  Perhaps that’s because he says it’s ok to eat butter.

But I enjoyed his essay because of the way he spells out the differences between “real food” and what Michael Pollan famously termed “edible food-like substances.” From the article:

 You might consider a dried apricot (one ingredient) versus a Fruit Roll-Up (13 ingredients, numbers 2, 3 and 4 of which are sugar or forms of added sugar). Or you might reflect that real yogurt has two or three ingredients (milk plus bacteria, with some jam or honey if you like) and that the number in Breyers YoCrunch Cookies n’ Cream Yogurt is unknowable (there are a few instances of “and/or”) but certainly at least 18.

The number one reason that I like being a farmer is that I like food.  I like being around large quantities of fresh food.  When I started working on farms five years ago, it was that aspect of the lifestyle that got me thinking, “Man, I could get used to this!” Added bonuses to farmwork are that I get to work outside, work hard, sleep well, and see a physical product of my labor.  As a beginning farmer, it makes me glad to read an essay like Bittman’s and feel like the pendulum is swinging back to the side that I’m working on.

Happy eating, everyone!  See you at the first Charlottesville market of the season next Saturday!    –Ben

Winter is vacation time on a farm, right?

One might think winter is vacation time on the farm. Not much grows at arctic temperatures, the soil is frozen, and most farmers’ markets are on break. But as we’re discovering, farming is still a full-time job in the winter-time! Here’s a peek at what we’ve been up to.

We have hired a full-time intern, Ashley Wright, who will start the first week of April.  In May, she will be joined by a full-time volunteer Brenda Fisher.  We are excited to welcome these two gals to our farm!

Yes, its winter, but we are trying out growing lettuce in the high tunnel, which is a passive structure that collects heat from the sun during the day and protects the plants from icy nighttime temperatures.  Winter lettuce leaves are thick, because its growing so slowly, and their sugars are concentrated to help them survive freezing.  This is especially exciting because this is the first crop we have harvested that we planted ourselves!

We have assembled most of the materials for our wood-fired oven: firebricks for the hearth, red brick for the door, concrete block and gravel for the foundation, masonry sand, clay, sawdust, wood chips and, yes, plenty of beer bottles for hearth insulation.

We are nearly done with the oven foundation!  We’ve laid concrete block and have been filling it with a mix of rock that has been pulled from our fields where it likely landed in the 1969 mudslide, and gravel. The arctic weather delayed this work somewhat, but we still feel on-track for having the oven finished by April markets.

We are also building a smaller clay oven for the house, and to gain experience working with our materials.

We bought a tractor!  Its a 1982 Ford, 40 HP, with a loader, which has already been put to good use moving heavy stuff for the oven around!

We have planned our CSA and placed our seed order! This involves zillions of decisions–which crops? which varieties? how much space does it need? how much space do we have? how many transplants? how many plantings? when do we plant them so that we have vegetables when we want them? Yes, we have become best friends with Excel.

We are selling bread and vegetables in Charlottesville and Lexington.

Our CSA is about 60% sold out!  Thank you to everyone who has signed up so far!

We are planning Thorny-O, an oldtime music and dance festival that we are organizing and hosting on the Valentine’s Day weekend.  We’re looking forward to welcoming new and old friends to our lovely farm!

Whew, I think that’s it.