We are a 40 acre, family run farm. Our land consists of 20 acres of hay, 10 acres of rotational crop, and livestock of goats and chickens. Our primary farm income is from sales of fresh vegetables to restaurants and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture).
We purchased our farm three years ago and came to the conclusion quickly that it was important to invest our time and energy into as many perennial crops as feasible. Not only does this save money on seeds but also labor. Jerusalem Artichokes were very important as they are drought as well as flood resistant; they are one of a few, environmentally-friendly crops.
• A plant which needs little care and has little environmental impact from planting to processing
• A plant that is healthy for human consumption, especially for those dealing with Diabetes.
• A fodder which has a higher protein level than most animal feed.
PROCESS: Because Jerusalem artichokes are harvested and replanted in the fall, our biggest issue was the timing of ordering and receiving the chokes for planting. Being located in West Central Wisconsin we found the closest and most reasonable farm to order from was in Colorado. Unfortunately the year we ordered, they had an early blizzard and could only send a portion of the order. By the time we received them we also had very cold weather. After a few days of planting 500 pounds of tubers manually, the fear set in of would they make it through the winter, being planted in cold weather. We received the final shipment of the remaining order in the spring and planted those immediately. Both plantings came up vigorously and were very pleasing to watch bloom for many weeks.
Once blooms began dying out we occasionally dug a few chokes to taste the progress. In the process we found that the longer they are in the ground, the better the taste. Our goats enjoyed eating the chokes but were not thrilled with the green fodder. Once the fodder had dried they had no problem eating it. We had intended to bale the fodder as you would hay but ended up with very rainy weather leaving the cut fodder with mildew. We will try baling next year but have noted that because the fodder, unlike hay, has very heavy and wet stalks, it is really important that you have a long stretch of dry weather to accomplish baling.
The Jerusalem Artichokes were a nice addition to our CSA packages as they have weight, are not a traditional vegetable, and are a great addition for our clients who are health conscious.
We had many neighbors interested in what we were doing, especially since we had received a grant for this and that had been publicized in the local paper. In addition to curious folks there were those who have worked on our farm and had never heard of them. Because they are planted and harvested much like a potato there was a lot of interest in the process. Because of the dual edibility for both humans and animals there was interest from both those who wished to try them themselves as well as those who considered it for their herd animals.
In fulfilling our educational obligation for the grant we had the local High School FFA (Future Farmers of America) come to the farm for a field trip. Because so many people are affected by Diabetes there were many questions about the health value of eating chokes in place of potatoes and other starchy foods.
Through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Fairs we were able to hand out recipe cards for Jerusalem Artichokes that included the health benefits of eating the chokes on the reverse side.
We received a lot of positive feedback from CSA members concerning the addition of chokes in their weekly delivery of veggies.
The wonderful thing about receiving a grant is it allowed us to plant a new product which would have taken years to evolve to the quantity we have. Because it is a crop which will continue to increase, we expect that next year’s crop will pay the farm back its initial investment as well as add a profit. Financially, we would not have been able to invest at this level.
From what we know of Jerusalem Artichokes, our main concern from here on will be keeping them confined to one area of the farm as they are very invasive.
We will have to educate people on the health benefits of consuming the chokes on a continual basis as there is not a lot of information out there. A large part of our success will be based on education, resulting in sales.
We believe the cultivation of this plant interests people on many levels, making it a very easy plant and food to talk about. Health benefits, human and animal consumption, environmentally friendly (very adaptable and easy to grow), very nice foliage and bloom.
Along with our farm web page, we also had the local High School FFA class come to the farm for a tour and question/answer session where the health benefits of Jerusalem Artichokes were discussed. An article was published in the local paper informing the public that our farm had been awarded the grant. We attended three separate CSA fairs and an Earth Day gathering where we had copies of our grant proposal as well as more in depth information on the health benefits of Jerusalem Artichokes (JAs), the benefits of feeding the plants to animals, and the environmental benefits of the plant.
All education was done through communication. Our field day at the farm with the FFA class was attended by 15-20 local children and accompanying adults. The CSA fairs as well as the Earth Day event allowed us to reach multitudes of individuals.
We were not able to have a taste and informational time at the Seniors center. We are looking at holding this in the spring of 2011.
We had a visit from the FHA class from Clear Lake School. They came to the farm and discussed CSAs and the benefits of the JAs for health, the environment, and animal consumption. There are plans for them to return so that they can see the JAs fully grown and get farm updates.
The local grocery store that we had planned on distributing at had JAs packaged and for sale before we harvested. Due to low sales, they were not interested in restocking.
We harvested about 600 lbs of JAs, distributing the majority of the harvest to our CSA customers, who received about 5 lbs each time. Five pounds would be equivalent to about 5 large potatoes, enough to use as a side dish to feed a family of 4.
The harvest itself was done by hand on an as-needed basis as we did not want to harvest more than we knew we were able to distribute. The wonderful thing about JAs is they do not rot away in the ground and will continue to reproduce. This spring we will once again till up, harvest some and replant tubers for fall harvest. A rough guesstimate for last fall’s crop would be 3000 lbs. Spring of 2011 we will be expanding the garden by half as much.
We have been sought out, based on our web page and word of mouth, by customers who have health issues and are now permanent customers of ours. This reinforces our belief, with such a large segment of the population dealing with diabetes, that one day JAs will be as common as the potato in major grocery chains. Also recently there was a food segment on Public Radio discussing foods which are all around healthy for animals, the environment and humans, JAs were discussed at length. There is no doubt that as society becomes more concerned with health and environment that JAs will become a staple in our diets. As with everything, on-going education will be the key. As the investment of time and money is needed to plant, an investment of education is needed.
We are very thankful for the grant, as we would have not been financially able to plant what we did. As the JAs multiply in the garden we will be increasing our marketing efforts and moving them into mainstream.